New Jersey lawmakers will soon discuss a proposed law that would ban smoking in Atlantic City's casinos, the first action in nearly three years on an emotional issue that is dividing casino patrons and sickening some workers.
The state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will hold a hearing Feb. 13 in Trenton to discuss the bill, but does not plan to vote on it that day, according to Sen. Joseph Vitale, one of the measure's sponsors.
The bill would close a loophole in New Jersey's 2006 indoor smoking law that exempts casinos. Currently, smoking is allowed on up to 25% of the casino floor.
Similar pushes to end casino smoking are being waged by employees in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Many casino workers have been pushing for years for a total ban on casino smoking, saying the secondhand smoke is making them ill.
The casinos fear a total smoking ban would cost the industry revenue and jobs, although smoking opponents dispute that assertion.
"This hearing means that Atlantic City casino workers are one step closer to not having to choose between their health and a paycheck," said Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. "It’s a historic moment in the fight to protect the health of thousands of New Jersey workers. Dealers bear the brunt of the dangerous secondhand smoke more harshly than anyone else working in casinos, and their voices must carry the most weight."
Vitale said the hearing is intended to foster "a thorough discussion with the committee on how this bill will affect casino employees, customers and the gaming industry."
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Legislature.