Cancer-stricken businessman begs Atlantic City casino to ban smoking

Cancer-stricken businessman begs Atlantic City casino to ban smoking

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Tammy Brady began her career as an Atlantic City casino dealer at age 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 this would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to smoke second-hand,” said Brady, who works at the Borgata casino.

Tropicana crap dealer Holly Dibbler is undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer.

“I don’t even know how long I’m going to live,” she said. “I love my job; I don’t want to leave it. But all my oncologists told me it was a life-and-death choice.”

They were among scores of casino employees who testified before two state Assembly committees Thursday in favor of a bill to ban smoking at nine Atlantic City casinos.

No vote was taken on the bill at a concurrent hearing on February 13. Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Legislature, but so far, leaders of the Democrat-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 state’s 2006 indoor smoking law. The measure was written specifically to exempt casinos from the ban on smoking indoors. Currently, smoking is permitted on 25% of a casino floor in Atlantic City

“I don’t want to take away the right to kill yourself by smoking,” said Assemblyman 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 will lose customers and revenue if smoking bans are allowed in nearby state casinos.

But Andrew Klebenow of Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming said many casinos that have gone smoke-free, including those in Washington, D.C., and near Boston and Maryland, are thriving financially.

Business groups opposed the ban, and Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Hair casino workers union, predicted that banning smoking would cost the industry 10% of revenue and close at least one casino.

“In the south, there is no other work,” he said. “It’s like Hooterville. No one is for cancer. The issue is whether we end up closing a casino or not?”

The Casino Association of New Jersey says the actual impact of the smoking ban could be closer to a loss of 20 to 25% of casino revenue.

“Atlantic City’s casino industry is still very much in the rebuilding and recovery phase from where it was at the start of the pandemic,” its statement said. “Atlantic City visitation is near a 20-year low, while gas and toll prices are rising. Adding smoking bans could have a devastating effect on communities and states in this tough economy.”

Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars, said she fears she will be laid off if smoking is banned and business declines.

“I am not against smoking; I’m against job losses,” he said.

But many other casino workers felt differently.

Whenever Robin Vitule walks into his job as a hard rock dealer, he thinks the same thing: “Am I going to breathe that cloud of smoke that day that gives me cancer? Or is it too late?”

The vendors say their employers forbid them to remove the smoke.

“They say it will embarrass the customer,” said Janice Green, 62, a crap dealer in Tropicana. “I’m like, ‘You mean the customer that’s killing me?'”

Whether to ban smoking is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City, but also in casinos in other states where employees have expressed concerns about secondhand smoke. They are running similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The issue is most divisive in Atlantic City, where casino revenue hit an all-time high of $5.2 billion last year, but only half of that came from private gamblers. The other half is won online and must be shared with third parties, including technology platforms and sports books.

Only three of the nine casinos – Borgata, Ocean and Resorts – surpassed their pre-pandemic revenue levels last year in terms of winnings from individual gamblers.

Support for the smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers, with bipartisan majorities in both chambers.

The bill must be voted on in committees of the Senate and Assembly, then voted on by the full membership of those legislative bodies before going to the governor. That hearing and vote has not yet been scheduled.


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