Tammy Brady began her career as a casino dealer in Atlantic City at the age of 18. Now 55, she has stage 2 breast cancer.
“While I’m not sure we’ll ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to work in secondhand smoke,” Brady said. who works at the Borgata casino.
Holly Diebler, dice dealer at the Tropicana, is undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer.
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“I don’t even know how long I’m going to live,” he said. “I love my job, I don’t want to leave it. But all the oncologists have told me this is a life and death choice.”
He was among numerous casino employees who testified Thursday before two State Assembly committees in favor of a bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
There was no vote on the bill, as there was in an identical hearing on February 13. Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Legislature, but so far, leaders of the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate have not committed to allowing the bill to move forward and be voted on.
The bill would close a loophole in the 2006 Indoor Smoking Act. This measure was written specifically to exempt casinos from the indoor smoking ban. Currently, smoking is allowed on 25% of a casino floor in Atlantic City.
“I don’t want to take away your right to kill yourself by smoking,” said Rep. Don Guardian, a former mayor of Atlantic City. “I want to take away your right to kill someone else by smoking in a casino.”
The casino industry opposes the smoking ban, saying it would lose customers and revenue if smoking were banned while casinos in nearby states were still allowed.
However, Andrew Klebenow of Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming said many casinos that have quit are thriving financially, including casinos near Washington, D.C. and Boston, and in Maryland.
Business groups opposed a ban, and Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, predicted the smoking ban would cost the industry 10 percent of its revenue and cause at least one casino to close.
“Down south, there are no other jobs,” he said. “It’s like Hooterville. Nobody is for cancer. The point is do we end up closing a casino or not?”
The New Jersey Casino Association said the actual impact of the smoking ban could be closer to 20 to 25 percent of lost casino revenue.
“Atlantic City’s casino industry is still very much in the process of rebuilding and recovering from where it was at the beginning of the pandemic,” her statement said. “Atlantic City visitation is near a 20-year low, while gas and toll prices are on the rise. Adding a smoking ban could wreak havoc on the community and the state in this tough economy.”
Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars, said she fears she will be fired if smoking is banned and business levels drop.
“I’m not against smoking, I’m against job losses,” she said.
But many more casino workers felt differently.
Every time Robin Vitulle attends her job as a Hard Rock sales rep, she has the same thought: “Is it the day I inhale the cloud of smoke that gives me cancer? Or is it already too late?”
The traders say they are forbidden by their employers to remove the smoke.
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“They say it would embarrass the customer,” said Janice Green, 62, a dice dealer at the Tropicana. “I’m thinking, ‘You mean the customer who’s killing me?’
The smoking ban is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City, but also in casinos in other states where workers have expressed concern about secondhand smoke. They are running similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The issue is among the most divisive in Atlantic City, where even though casino revenue hit an all-time high of $5.2 billion last year, only half that amount was won by gamblers. The other half was won online and must be shared with third parties, including tech platforms and sportsbooks.
Just three of the nine casinos – Borgata, Ocean and Resorts – exceeded their pre-pandemic revenue levels in terms of money won by gamblers last year.
Support for the smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers, with bipartisan majorities in both chambers.
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The bill must pass in Senate and Assembly committees and then be voted on by the full members of those legislatures before going to the governor. These hearings and votes have not yet been scheduled.