By Martin Triolo in Atlantic City
A bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos is gaining support in Trenton, but it remains unclear whether the state’s Democratic political leadership will allow it to move forward.
The bill, like one that died without a vote in last year’s legislative session, would amend New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act to include casinos. The gambling halls are specifically exempted from the law.
Smoking is allowed on no more than 20% of a casino’s floor in Atlantic City.
Republican state Sen. Michael Testa said yesterday he has added his backing to the bill as a co-sponsor. He joins fellow Republican Vince Polistina, and Democrats Shirley Turner; Joseph Vitale; Patrick Diegnan; Teresa Ruiz and Vin Gopal.
“Casino workers should have the same right to work in a safe and healthy environment as any other worker in our state,” Testa said. ”We can both protect the health of casino workers and their guests while safeguarding our state’s thriving gaming industry.”
Its chances, however, remain unclear. The bill has been referred to a Senate committee that is meeting on Thursday; the casino smoking bill is not on the committee’s agenda.
A spokesperson for Assembly speaker Craig Coughlin said that if legislation is reintroduced there, “the speaker is prepared to thoroughly and thoughtfully review the bill.”
The Casino Association of New Jersey, representing the Atlantic City casinos, reiterated its stance Monday that banning smoking would cost jobs, money and tax revenue.
“Banning smoking completely and permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region, placing Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with Pennsylvania casinos where smoking is permitted,” said Joe Lupo, president of the association and of the Hard Rock casino. “A decline in our customer base would also cause economic hardship to a large portion of the 20,000 employees who rely on the tips and customer volume that our industry provides.”