Judge Promises Quick Decision on Lawsuit Over Smoking in Atlantic City Casinos

Land Based Casinos Law & Politics
Edward Scimia

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Edward Scimia

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Last Updated 15th May 2024, 01:07 PM

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Judge Promises Quick Decision on Lawsuit Over Smoking in Atlantic City Casinos

Resort casinos in Atlantic City could soon become smoke-free. (Image: Sean Pavone / Alamy)

Superior Court Judge Patrick Bartles listened to arguments from both casino workers, management, and the State of New Jersey on Monday over whether smoking should be banned in Atlantic City casinos.

The United Auto Workers filed the lawsuit last month. They represent dealers at Bally's, Caesars, and Tropicana casinos in Atlantic City.

Workers Argue Casino Exemption Endangers Health

Judge Bartels did not issue a ruling on Monday but said that he will look to do so “as quickly as possible.”

The workers are hoping to overturn an exemption to New Jersey’s indoor smoking laws, which prohibit smoking in most buildings. However, casino destinations enjoy an exemption that allows smoking to take place on up to 25 percent of the casino floor in Atlantic City.

The issue, workers say, is that the smoking areas are not separated in any meaningful way from the rest of the casino. 

That implies that even if they don't work specifically in smoking sections, workers still come into contact with secondhand smoke, endangering their health.

“The purpose of the act is to protect workers from sickness and death,” Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the workers union, said in court on Monday. 

“It is not to put money in the casinos’ pockets. We are seeking to end a special law which does a favor for casinos and seriously harms workers.”

Smith found herself arguing against multiple groups on Monday, as New Jersey state officials, the Casino Association of New Jersey, and even some casino unions defended the current exemption for Atlantic City’s resorts.

Casinos Fear Revenue Drop if Smoking Banned

Lawyer Chris Porrino represented the Casino Association of New Jersey in the case. He argued that workers would ultimately be hurt by a smoking ban.

“The simple facts are that many people who gamble like to smoke,” Porrino told Judge Bartles. “If the smoking exemption is stricken, jobs will be lost and employees will be out of work. They will lose their medical and other benefits.”

Seth Ptasiewicz, a lawyer for a group of casino employees who want to maintain the current smoking restrictions, also cited that argument. 

Ptasiewicz pointed out that Atlantic City saw a 19.8 percent decline in casino revenue while attempting to implement a smoking ban in 2008. Unite Here Local 54, one of Ptasiewicz’s clients, argued in a filing that it fears a smoking ban could cost up to a third of its 10,000 members their jobs.

“[Workers] understand that [smoking] is a part of the job, and they accept it,” Ptasiewicz told the court. “No job is 100 percent safe.”

Deputy Attorney General Robert McGuire represented New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston. On Monday, McGwire argued against Smith’s claims that workers have a constitutional right to safety, saying no such right exists.

McGwire also alluded to arguments that the casinos could lose money if they banned smoking entirely. Workers fighting for the ban have pointed to a 2022 study that has shown no negative impact from smoking bans at casinos in recent years.

Atlantic City casino workers hold signs during rally

Atlantic City casino workers rallied for fair air and equal protection under NJ Clean Air in April. (Image: Associated Press / Alamy)

The coalition of workers looking to end smoking at the casinos has also been pursuing legislative changes to reach their goal. In January, the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee gave its approval to the bill, but there has been no movement on it since.

According to Porrino, legislative change is the only way the current rules should change for Atlantic City casinos.

“Our elected officials struck what they believed was the most appropriate balance and have had the opportunity every year for 18 years since the act was passed to strike a different balance,” Porrino told the court. 

“If the legislature changes its collective mind and decides to strike a different balance, then the law will change. If not, the law must stand, and plaintiffs’ complaints must be dismissed.”

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Edward Scimia
Edward Scimia
Journalist Journalist

Ed Scimia is a freelance writer who has been covering the gaming industry since 2008. He graduated from Syracuse University in 2003 with degrees in Magazine Journalism and Political Science. In his time as a freelancer, Ed has worked for About.com, Gambling.com, and Covers.com, among other sites. He has also authored multiple books and enjoys curling competitively, which has led to him creating curling-related content for his YouTube channel "Chess on Ice."

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