ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — Amid a new campaign to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos, a new report released Wednesday predicts it could cost up to 2,500 casino jobs and nearly 11% of casino revenue as they struggle to rebound. the coronavirus pandemic.
Independent gambling research firm Spectrum Gaming Group compiled the report which backs up the casinos’ longstanding claim that eliminating smoking would hurt their business, rob New Jersey of tax revenue and put thousands of unemployed people.
A group of casino workers and smoking opponents criticized the report, saying it prioritized profits over the health of employees and customers. They also said it did not consider what would happen in subsequent years as customers grew accustomed to a smoking ban, citing the experience of some tribal casinos where it bounced.
The New Jersey Casino Association commissioned the report, which did not recommend whether or not to ban smoking, an option that is gaining renewed support in the state legislature. New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said he would sign a smoking ban if a bill passes.
Among other findings, he determined that smokers, who make up 21% of Atlantic City gamblers, are worth more to casinos than non-smokers in that they tend to lose more money and spend more on gambling. non-gaming items.
Joe Lupo, president of Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Casino and Casino Association, said Atlantic City “is facing some very serious issues.”
He said casino employment and visitation to Atlantic City were both at 20-year lows and in-person gambling revenues had yet to return to pre-COVID levels, in decrease of 5% in 2021 compared to 2019.
“Now is not the time to pass a smoking ban,” he said, adding that it “could have a devastating effect on the community and the state.”
Nicole Vitola, Borgata dealer and leader of the group pushing for a smoking ban, said workers “cannot continue to choose between our health and a paycheck.”
“This study, funded by the casino industry, shows once again that they care more about outdated business practices than the lives and health of their workers,” she said. “The casinos’ blatant disregard for our well-being is shameful, especially after they just received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks from the state.”
The Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights group cited a July tribal gambling conference in Las Vegas where panelists reported that revenue lost in the first year of the smoking ban rebounded in subsequent years. to reach a higher level than it was before the bans.
They also cited a comment last fall from Bill Miller, president of the American Gaming Association, that some casinos have enacted smoking bans “with no ill effects.”
Smoking is permitted on 25% of the Atlantic City Casino floor. Casinos say banning it would scare smokers to neighboring Pennsylvania, where many casinos allow smoking.
A group of Atlantic City casino workers, aided by national non-smoking groups, have been pushing for more than a year for New Jersey to close the loophole in its public smoking law that allows it to continue in the casinos; it is prohibited in most other indoor spaces.
They complain of developing respiratory ailments and other harm from breathing in second-hand smoke, despite casinos investing millions in filters and air-purifying technology.
Legislation to end smoking in casinos died in last year’s legislative session, but was reintroduced this year and garnered bipartisan support.
Atlantic City banned smoking for four weeks in 2008, but unhappy with the results, quickly reinstated it to the current level of 25%. In the first week of the ban, casino earnings fell 19.5%, according to casino workers union officials and state regulators.
The report claimed that between 1,021 and 2,512 jobs could be lost in the first year of a smoking ban in Atlantic City. Spectrum used data from 2019 which found that each casino job was supported by $155,008 in gambling revenue.
They also interviewed casino executives, employees and customers, as well as anti-smoking advocacy groups, and studied the experience of other states that have banned smoking in casinos.
At the high end of its projections, the report says 10% of Atlantic City’s casino workforce could lose their jobs if smoking is banned.
He also found that with a smoking ban, non-gaming revenue would drop by up to $93 million, or 6.5%, and tax revenue would drop by up to 44%.
The report also acknowledged that some non-smoking patrons would be more likely to visit casinos if smoking was banned. But the report found the extra activity wouldn’t be enough to offset an overall decline in game revenue.
He doesn’t expect every smoker to stop coming to Atlantic City casinos if smoking is banned. The report predicted that smokers would constitute 13% of total casino visitors and that they would also have the opportunity to gamble online.
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at @WayneParryAC
This story was first published on February 23, 2022. It was updated on February 28, 2022 to correct that the Spectrum Gaming Group report predicted that smokers would constitute 13% of casino visitors, not that 13% of smokers would continue to frequent the casino. city casinos if a ban were enacted.