Atlantic City is caught up in a feverish debate over whether smoking inside its casinos should be allowed. The city prohibited cigarettes and cigars during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that was only a temporary injunction. Since then, attempts to make the ban permanently have found significant resistance. A new report hopes to scare lawmakers into backing down, but there’s a problem. The report isn’t based entirely on facts.
Smoking Ban Debate Continues
As casinos try to recover from the coronavirus epidemic, there is a renewed push for banning smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos. A new report published Wednesday shows that this could mean a loss of up to 2,500 jobs and nearly 11% in revenue for the casinos.
Spectrum Gaming Group (SGG), an independent company dedicated to gambling research, has compiled the report. The report supports casinos’ longstanding contentions that eliminating smoking would hurt business, deprive New Jersey of tax revenue and leave thousands without work.
The report found that smokers, who account for 21% of Atlantic City’s gamblers, are more valuable to casinos than non-smokers. This is because they tend to lose less money and spend more time on non-gaming items.
The report stated that 1,021 to 2,512 jobs might be lost within the first year after Atlantic City banned smoking. Spectrum used data for 2019 and found that each casino job was supported by $155,008 of gambling revenues.
They interviewed employees, customers, and casino executives, as well as antismoking advocacy group members.
Joe Lupo, the new president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) and Atlantic City’s Hard Rock casino, said that Atlantic City is facing “some very dire problems.” He explained that Atlantic City casino visitation and employment are at 20-year highs and that in-person gambling revenue was still lower than it was in 2019.
He warned, “Now is not the time to enact a smoking ban. [It] could cause a devastating effect to the community and state.”
Lupo stated that Atlantic City casino officials will meet with the governor next week to discuss their concerns.
Breaking Down the Report
The report was ordered by the CANJ. It’s difficult to imagine a casino-commissioned report ever providing results that go against the industry’s wishes. SGG is dedicated to the gambling industry – it even says so in its title. While no one can accuse them of swaying the results in casinos’ favor, it’s unlikely they would go out of their way to show support for anything that might damage casinos’ revenue.
In addition, previous studies have already shown that smoking bans do not lead to a decrease in revenue. A recent report about Pennsylvania casinos and their smoking bans supports the idea.
The new SGG report did not recommend banning smoking. This is an option that is seeing renewed support in state legislatures. Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s Democratic governor, said he will approve a smoking ban if lawmakers approve the legislation.
Atlantic City has 25% of its casino floor where smoking is permitted. Ironically, the casinos claim that prohibiting smoking would encourage smokers to move to Pennsylvania. There are still some casinos that allow smoking, but the number is dwindling.
Casino Workers Clap Back
Atlantic City casino workers have been pushing for New Jersey to close a loophole in their public smoking law for more than a year. The law allows casinos to smoke, while it is illegal in other indoor spaces.
They complain of respiratory diseases and other side effects from second-hand smoke, despite the fact that “millions of dollars” have been spent on air purifying technology and filters at casinos.
Atlantic City temporarily banned smoking for four weeks in 2008. But, unsatisfied with its results, it quickly restored it at 25%. According to state regulators, as well as the unions representing casino workers, casino winnings decreased by 19.5% within the first week.
Common sense dictates that a ban of any kind will cause an immediate change in the flow of activity. However, using the results from the first week doesn’t paint an accurate picture. In addition, 2008 was the same year the recession hit the US.
The new report indicates that 13% of smokers would still visit Atlantic City casinos. That’s more than half of the current segment. The other half won’t be willing to travel to Pennsylvania or anywhere else, especially as more bans are implemented. Instead, they’ll switch to New Jersey online gambling, leaving the money in the state.