Research Finds Atlantic City Casino Smoking Ban Could Cost 2,500 Jobs
February 24, 2022
An independent gambling research firm, Spectrum Gaming Group, compiled a new report released on Wednesday that predicts a smoking ban in Atlantic City’s casinos could cost up to 2,500 casino jobs and nearly 11% of casinos’ revenue.
The Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned the report.
Consisting of seven state casinos, the commission received the report in November of last year but did not recommend whether smoking should be banned.
The report supports casinos’ opposition that eliminating smoking would hurt their business as they struggle to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, according to these business owners, the ban might also deprive New Jersey of tax revenue and put thousands of people out of work.
Legislation to end casino smoking faltered in last year’s legislative session, but the motion sees renewed support in the state Legislature. New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, has said he will sign a smoking ban into law if a bill is passed.
Smoking ban in Atlantic City
Atlantic City banned smoking for four weeks in 2008 but quickly restored it to the current 25% level after seeing a 19.5% in casino winnings in the first week of the ban.
Spectrum used data from 2019 to conclude that each casino job was supported by $155,008 of gambling revenue, implying that between 1,021 to 2,512 jobs could be lost in the first year of a smoking ban in the city. The firm estimates that about 13% of New Jersey's population smoke and over 20% of casino players in Atlantic City smoke.
According to the report, non-gambling revenue would fall by up to $93 million, or 6.5%, and tax revenue would fall by as much as 44% with a smoking ban.
The report summarizes the interviews with casino executives, workers and customers, and anti-smoking advocacy groups. It also studies the experience of other states that have banned casino smoking.
The report suggested that smokers, who account for 21% of Atlantic City gamblers, are worth more to casinos than non-smokers. This is based on behavioral tendencies that smokers tend to lose more money and spend more on non-gambling items.
“Now is not the time to enact a smoking ban,” said Joe Lupo, president of the casino association and of Atlantic City’s Hard Rock casino.
He said that currently, casino employment and visitation to Atlantic City are both at 20-year lows. On top of it, there's a pandemic that caused in-person gambling revenue to go down 5% in 2021 compared to 2019 and has yet to return to pre-COVID levels.
On the other hand, despite their position in the business, a group of casino workers criticized the report alongside other smoking opponents. They pointed out that it prioritizes profits over the health of employees and customers.
“This study, paid for by the casino industry, shows once again that they care more about outdated business practices than they do about the lives and health of their workers,” said Nicole Vitola, a Borgata dealer and a leader of the group pushing for a smoking ban. “Casinos’ blatant disregard for our well-being is disgraceful, especially after they just received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks from the state.”
According to them, it also fails to examine what would happen in subsequent years as patrons get used to a smoking ban. The Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights cited a July tribal gambling conference in Las Vegas where it successfully rebounded in subsequent years to higher revenue than before the smoking bans.