CEASE Appears to Be Winning the Public Relations Battle for Smoke-Free NJ Casinos

Last week, the president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) backed out of participating in a public forum on indoor smoking. The meeting was scheduled to take place this week at the East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC).

CANJ’s new president Mark Giannantonio appeared ready to participate in an ECGC panel with Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing (which owns PARX Casino) and Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. However, Giannantonio backing out caused the conference organizers to cancel the whole thing.

Smoking in casinos has become a significant debate recently, with legislation bills A2151 and S264 poised for a vote. These bills could close the casino smoking carveout, ending all smoking inside Atlantic City casinos. These bills have earned extraordinary bipartisan and bicameral support.

Workers at all nine Atlantic City casinos have expressed strong concerns over smoking in the workplace. Last year, they banded together to form Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE). The group has been leading protest marches in the streets to end indoor smoking and protect casino employees’ health.

Why Can You Smoke at Atlantic City Casinos?

The New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect in 2006. It banned most indoor smoking at workplaces and public spaces in the state. However, the casino industry received an exception. The act permits smoking in the gaming area of a casino that contains at least 150 slot machines or 10 table games.

CEASE makes all the usual health-based arguments against the exception but adds one novel claim to the debate. The group has said that smoke-free policies in Atlantic City would help many problem gamblers call it quits during losing runs.

CEASE believes that taking smoke breaks outside the casino would also give gamblers a chance to suspend their play temporarily. That, the group argues, could lead to some deciding to stop chasing their losses or to quit while they’re ahead.

State gaming commissions and casinos are always looking at new ways to prevent gambling addiction or help those already fighting their problem. CEASE’s blog post about the responsible gambling aspects of a smoking ban coincided with the beginning of Responsible Gaming Education Month. 

Responsible Gaming Best Practices

According to the 2022 Responsible Gaming Regulations and Statutes Guide, published by the American Gaming Association (AGA), there have been no substantial changes since 2019 to New Jersey’s regulatory framework regarding responsible gaming.

However, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement seeks to strengthen the state’s responsible gaming framework. To that end, it has issued official best practices and guidance for NJ online casinos and sports betting sites. One of the suggestions is that “operators integrate automatic alerts and interventions whenever a player shows risky behavior or possible signs of harm based on their account activity.”

These same best practices could benefit retail slot players. Gamblers on a road trip to their favorite casino see warning signs right in front of them on their vehicle’s dashboard after driving several hours, “Consider taking a break.” Adding these similar warnings to slot screens could help problem gamblers after spending a certain amount of money or time at a machine.

A 2018 study by University of Waterloo professors Kevin Harrigan and Dan Brown found that static warning labels on slot machines weren’t effective. However, on-screen, time-based warnings might be.

Other Ways of Forcing Gamblers to Step Back

If a smoking ban does, in fact, lead to some players deciding to walk away and creates a measurable reduction in problem gambling, what’s next? Lawmakers, regulators and responsible gambling advocates would surely want to try additional, similar measures.

Drink service to slots and table game players has been a key component of gaming across the US and around the world. New Jersey casinos currently have no alcoholic beverage restrictions, according to the AGA’s Responsible Gaming Regulations and Statutes Guide.

Eliminating drink services to players at a slot machine would provide a similar reason to step away. Heading to the nearest bar or restaurant in the casino could become another form of subtle cooling-off period. However, it’s a suggestion that would probably meet far more resistance than a ban on smoking, as the tides have been turning against the latter for decades now.

Implement a Solution

After backing out of the smoking ban discussion at ECGC, Giannantonio said everyone needs to work towards a timely solution. His words suggest that the casinos know they are losing this public relations battle and are seeking a compromise, or at least a delay:

The Casino Association of New Jersey has been very transparent in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City. We believe that more time is needed to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to seniors.

However, Atlantic City casinos would be far from alone in going smoke-free. Already, there are over 1000 gaming properties in the US with 100% smoke-free indoor air policies, according to the Smokefree Casino & Gaming Property Directory compiled by American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

About the Author

Keith Stein

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for NJGamblingSites. He has a combined 27 years of experience in freelance writing, full-time journalism and supporting monthly and weekly news publications. He has also worked as a contributing writer with United Press International.