AC Casinos, Casino Workers Differ About Smoking; Second Philly Casino Bans Smoking

New Jersey banned indoor smoking years ago, but casinos convinced lawmakers to allow smoking on 25 percent of the gaming floor, claiming a total smoking ban would negatively impact revenues. So why is a second Philadelphia-area casino going non-smoking?

AC Casinos, Casino Workers Differ About Smoking; Second Philly Casino Bans Smoking

Atlantic City dealers and others want to clear the air—and are getting closer to their goal.

When New Jersey went smokeless at indoor locations, the law permitted Atlantic City casinos to set aside 25 percent of the gaming floor for smokers. Casino owners saying without smoking, they’ll lose a ton of money, and they have the studies to prove it, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

But many casinos employees, backed by anti-smoking organizations, say their health is more important than catering to the smokers. They assert that a little short-term pain will be rewarded with long-term gain.

Atlantic City unions are split. Local 54 of UNITE HERE favors the decision to let patrons smoke. The United Auto Workers represent dealers who want the ban.

“Our members include dealers who sit inches away from patrons who blow smoke directly into their face for eight hours a day, every single day,” said a UAW letter on behalf of workers at Caesars, Bally’s, and Tropicana. “It is simply unacceptable knowing what we know about the dangers of secondhand smoke. No worker in the state of New Jersey should be forced to breathe cancer-causing chemicals every single day.”

The New Jersey legislature has yet to get behind the Assembly and Senate bills to close the loophole that keeps smoking alive on the casino floors in Atlantic City. The lack of major progress has not stopped various lawmakers from adding their names as co-sponsors of bills which never seem to get a committee hearing. And without a committee hearing, legislation goes nowhere.

All this comes as a statewide poll from Stockton University released April 29 shows strong support for the ban. Stockton took the pulse of 640 respondents from all over the state, and found that 62 percent supported the total ban, while 31 percent did not. Some 59 percent of South Jerseyans questioned in the poll said yes to the ban, while 66 percent of North Jersey residents want the ban. The poll was conducted between April 4 to 13.

The industry says such legislation would hurt the bottom line, which in turn would hurt employment, according to the Casino Association of New Jersey.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small opposes the ban. “We had a perfect example of … banning smoking in a casino with the former Revel,” Small said.

Is the association waging a losing if valiant war? “Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state,” said association President Joe Lupo, who is also president of the city’s Hard Rock casino.

Added Pete Naccarelli, a dealer since 1996: “Our argument is health. How much is my life worth?”

Local 54, which represents restaurant, housekeeping and other non-gaming workers, is against the legislation, according to

“While we want to ensure that our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” wrote Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54.

A smoking ban “would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” said McDevitt, whose union represents workers engaged in other casino-related jobs.

“We will not stand idly by and watch our members choose between their health and their job,” said the UAW letter. “We all have a right to breathe clean air at our workplaces.”

If John DeCree’s analysis of the proposed smoking ban is correct, the impact on the casino industry may be worse than anticipated. DeCree, a senior analyst with CBRE Equity, said property managers in the resort say smoking sections can generate up to 50 percent of the gaming revenues. Overall, revenue can fall by as much as 25 percent, based on the impact in other markets, especially those in which closer, more convenient casinos with smoking offer an alternative.

Although smoking is only permitted on 25 percent of the casino floor, our discussions with several Atlantic City property managers indicate that the smoking sections generate up to 50 percent or more of total gaming revenue. This is consistent with our research over the years that often reveal smoking sections in casinos generate substantially higher win per days (WPDs) than non-smoking sections.

Moreover, Atlantic City is primarily a drive-to destination market that draws the vast majority of its customers from the Philadelphia and New York metro areas. Smoking customers from these regions generally have more conveniently located casino options, many of which still allow smoking at least on part of the casino floor.

“We estimate a full smoking ban at Atlantic City casinos could negatively impact gaming revenue by as much as 20-25 percent. Our analysis is based on several case studies of prior smoking bans,” DeCree said.

In markets like Chicagoland, New Orleans, and at Mountaineer in West Virginia, where customers had conveniently located smoking alternatives, gaming revenue declined 20 percent+ in the first year after smoking was banned. In markets like Delaware and Peoria, IL, where there was really no convenient smoking alternative, gaming revenue declined 12 percent.

Yet another issue involves smokers who will come to Atlantic City even if there is a ban. The customers will be forced to go outside to a designated area to smoke with means less time on device, not just from being away puffing, but because Atlantic City casinos are large, it takes longer to reach the designated areas.

Meanwhile, a Philadelphia casino that allowed smoking banned it last week.

Rivers Casino Philadelphia announced that it has ended indoor smoking at its property, becoming the second Philadelphia-area casino to voluntarily ban smoking on its floor. Last fall, Parx Casino in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem instituted an indoor smoking ban. And Mt. Airy Casino in northeast Pennsylvania has also prohibited smoking.

Parx, despite the smoking ban, remains the highest-grossing casino in Pennsylvania. Rivers, owned by Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, is No. 3 in revenue for the commonwealth. Both properties are significant competitors of Atlantic City casinos, which so far have resisted the elimination of smoking, although a bill in the legislature to remove the casino exemption to New Jersey’s indoor smoking ban has seen movement.

“It’s becoming harder and harder for Atlantic City casinos to defend indoor smoking that threatens the health of their employees,” said Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “Rivers Casino Philly joins Parx Casino and casinos in Delaware, Maryland, New York and Connecticut in not permitting indoor smoking. It’s past time for Atlantic City casinos to end this outdated business practice and instead benefit from the guests who would visit their properties were it not for the smoke.”

The Casino Association of New Jersey has maintained its position that a smoking ban would significantly harm business, and even lead to one or more casinos closing. However, according to Parx Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oppenheimer, quoted on the Nonsmokers’ Rights website, the experience in Pennsylvania shows no evidence of that.

“Since smoking was allowed to return to (Pennsylvania casinos) in June, we have continued to be an indoor non-smoking facility,” Oppenheimer said. “We’ve done it for the health and comfort of both our guests and team members. We have received significant positive feedback from both constituencies. And (we) have continued our strong performance and gains of market share in the region.”

In February, a Parx spokesman told NJBiz, “Even many smokers have given positive feedback and have not minded going to the smoking patio. Employees are extremely happy with the change — especially the table games team.”