Workers File Lawsuit Over Law Exempting Atlantic City Casinos From Indoor Smoking Ban – CDC Gaming Reports


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Frustrated by having unsuccessfully agitated for more than three years to get lawmakers to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos, workers on Friday tried a new tactic. They have filed a lawsuit to try to overturn the law that leaves casino workers as the only ones not covered by Clean Air Act workplace protections.

The United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at Bally’s, Caesars and Tropicana casinos, and a group of casino workers opposed to smoking in gambling halls, has filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court challenging New Jersey’s indoor clean air law.

Passed 18 years ago, the law bans smoking in almost all indoor workplaces — except casinos.

The lawsuit seeks to have this exemption declared unconstitutional on several grounds, including equal protection under the law.

At a rally outside the courthouse where the lawsuit was filed, workers said they were using new tactics to ban smoking in casinos after so far failing to convince lawmakers to do so.

“Today, we get down on our knees and stand up!” Lamont White, a dealer at the Borgata Casino and one of the leaders of the anti-smoking movement, shouted to employees. “We offered them the carrot, now they get the stick!”

The smoking ban is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City casinos, but in other states where workers have expressed concerns about secondhand smoke. They are waging similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Virginia

Ray Jensen Jr., assistant director of the local UAW office, said the location of the fight has changed.

“If Trenton lawmakers don’t do their job, we will take the decision out of their hands and move it into the courtroom,” he said.

Mark Giannantonio, president of the New Jersey Casino and Resorts Association, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But the association opposes the smoking ban, saying doing so would put Atlantic City at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states that still allow smoking.

The lawsuit names Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, whose office did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and the state’s acting health commissioner. Murphy said he would sign the smoking ban if the Legislature passes it.

Earlier in the week, Donna DiCaprio, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, said Atlantic City’s core business — winnings from in-person gamblers — was still suffering. She warned lawmakers against doing anything that would make an already serious problem worse.

The union opposes the smoking ban, saying it would cost revenue and jobs and could force one or more casinos to close.

Only three of the nine casinos are making more money from in-person gamblers now than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Unlike in-person winnings, money won from online gambling or sports betting must be shared with third parties and is done not only for Maintaining casinos.

“Alarm bells should be ringing in Atlantic City and Trenton regarding negative short- and long-term economic trends,” she said. “Representatives in the New Jersey Legislature must understand the dire economic situation facing my members, and indeed all workers in Atlantic City.”

Earlier this year, State Sen. John Burzichelli introduced a bill that would give casinos much of what they want.

The measure would maintain the current 25% limit on casino floors where smoking is possible.

But it will allow smoking in unenclosed areas of the casino floor that contain slot machines and designated as smoking areas that are more than 15 feet (4.6 meters) away from table games where live dealers are operating. Casinos will also be allowed to offer smoking in closed, separately ventilated smoking rooms provided that no worker is assigned to work in such a room against his or her will.

The proposal was quickly rejected by workers demanding a complete ban.

US Representative Andy Kim, a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for a seat in the US Senate, supported the casino workers.

“If I don’t want people smoking in the United States Capitol where I work, then you don’t need people smoking in your workplace,” he said.

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