When the COVID-19 pandemic began, several new restrictions were put I place regarding the gambling industry in the United States. For starters, smoking was no longer allowed inside gambling facilities. Because smoking cannot be done with a mask on, patrons were not allowed to light up inside casinos. As the pandemic continues but the threat is supposedly lessened, smoking could be started back up again in different regions of the country. In New Jersey, the casino smoking ban will come to an end next month. Despite a push from advocates, operators and officials are not ready to go smoke-free just yet.
Smoking Ban Lifted
By June, several restrictions will be lifted in New Jersey. Indoor masks will no longer be mandatory along with capacity restrictions and smoking in casinos. If the vaccination and hospitalization trend in a negative manner, then we could see a change to the upcoming loosened restrictions.
Senate President Steve Sweeney stated that the casino industry in the state is struggling. The argument is that without smoking, a large percentage of gamblers will not travel to the region. At a time when the industry is already struggling, this is something that casinos can reportedly not afford.
During the pandemic, activists that are pro-non-smoking have been able to use the no-smoking policy during the pandemic as a reason why the smoking ban needs to be permanent. Smoking proved to be a factor that made the virus harder to handle among smokers and the casinos were able to function without it, so why bring it back now?
In many states, casinos are one of the few or only options for indoor smoking. It has come to be an expectation instead of an option. The Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Group wants to see this change. The group wants to see the hospitality gaming industry ban smoking, protecting both employees and guests.
The group points out that indoor smoking is an urgent respiratory health hazard and it could easily be addressed by creating outdoor smoking areas, away from staff and other guests. Some casinos did create outdoor smoking areas when the bans were put in place because of the pandemic. Gamblers seemed to have adjusted well and not really been bothered by the change.
Worry About Neighboring State Competition
For the casinos in Atlantic City, they worry that a full smoking ban would send players to neighboring states like Pennsylvania. The Casino Association of New Jersey says that a post-pandemic smoking ban would send players to the Keystone State and there would be a big loss of revenues. The casinos are already at a loss when it comes to revenue earnings due to the closures and capacity restrictions during the pandemic.
The Association says that a ban would have a significantly negative effect on Atlantic City. There would be a decrease in customer numbers which would create job loss. Tax revenues would also decline.
For now, the casinos and officials seem to be unable to budge on their thought process. It will be interesting to see how the state handles the smoking issue moving forward, if it will continue as normal or if changes will take place.