Atlantic City Gaming Leaders Voice Concerns, as Smoking Opponents File Lawsuit

Two of the more powerful people in Atlantic City โ€” Unite Here Local 54 President Donna DeCaprio and Mark Giannantonio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey โ€” have grave concerns about the cityโ€™s casino market.

(L to R) Lamont White, Nicole Vitola, and Pete Naccarelli are the cofounders of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects. Their grassroots organization formed in New Jersey sued the state today and asked a Superior Court judge to strike down a law that allows casino smoking in Atlantic City. (Image: HuffPost)

Atlantic Cityโ€™s brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) in January and February was below the same months in 2023. Resort traffic also dwindled during the first two months of the year.

DeCaprio and Giannantonio are using the poor start to elevate their position that state lawmakers in Trenton shouldnโ€™t pass legislation that might further dampen the cityโ€™s economic outlook. Specifically, lawmakers are weighing a change to the 2006 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act that allows the nine casinos down the shore to designate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for indoor tobacco consumption.

With in-person visitation and gaming revenue possibly slowing in Atlantic City, Giannantonio reasons now is not the time to enact a smoking ban.

This is not the time to enact laws, such as a full smoking ban, that will further erode customer visitation and revenues to our properties,โ€ Giannantonio told the Press of Atlantic City.

โ€œIt is time for the City of Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey, in its oversight capacity over the city, to address the issues that are preventing economic growth and develop solutions that will increase visitation to Atlantic City,โ€ added Giannantonio, who also heads up Resorts.

Workers File Lawsuit

CEASE โ€” Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects โ€” today filed a lawsuit in New Jerseyโ€™s Superior Court. The lawsuit names Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and the stateโ€™s Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston as defendants.

The litigation alleges that the stateโ€™s 2006 smoking law that includes carveouts for casinos wrongly jeopardizes the health of casino workers for the benefit of casino owners. The lawsuit asks the court to strike out the casino smoking loophole.

Legislation last year appeared to have the necessary support in the New Jersey Legislature to force the casinos to go smoke-free. But some lawmakers flip-flopped their positions after hearing from the casino lobby, which Giannantonio leads, that such a ban would devastate the Atlantic City gaming industry.

Itโ€™s disgusting to sacrifice workersโ€™ health because of some backroom politics where they donโ€™t even have to explain themselves,โ€ CEASE attorney Nancy Smith told The New York Times today.

CEASE began as a grassroots coalition in Atlantic City. The organization has since expanded with chapters in other states where casino smoking remains, including Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Virginia.

Ban Could Cost Jobsย 

DeCaprio represents about 10,000 Atlantic City casino workers, but those union members do not include table game dealers and slot attendants.

However, many Unite Here employees work on the casino floors where smoke lingers. The union represents housekeepers, bartenders, waiters, cooks, bellmen, doormen, and other service jobs.

DeCaprio shares Giannantonioโ€™s position that a smoking ban would damage casino revenue and lead to job cuts.

โ€œAs lawmakers continue to proceed with the annual state budget process, representatives in the New Jersey Legislature must understand the perilous economic situation at hand for my members, and indeed all workers in Atlantic City,โ€ DeCaprio said. โ€œNot only is the overall in-person revenue troubling โ€” but the size of the declines at some of the individual properties portends some serious instability for thousands of workers. The legislators need to take this into consideration as they consider policies that could compound the downward trends.โ€

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