Workers Sue Over Law Allowing Smoking in Atlantic City Casinos

Atlantic City casino workers have tried unsuccessfully for years to persuade New Jersey lawmakers to outlaw smoking on gambling floors. On Friday morning, they took their efforts to court.

In a lawsuit filed in State Superior Court in Mercer County, groups representing thousands of casino employees accused state legislators of giving special treatment to casino owners by allowing them to let people smoke inside their facilities. The state has allowed casinos to “knowingly force employees to work in toxic conditions,” the workers argued in court documents, and as a result, casino workers have experienced “life-threatening illness and death.”

“Pretty much the worst thing we hear on this job is, ‘Can I have an ashtray?’” Lamont White, who has worked as a card dealer at numerous Atlantic City casinos since 1985, said in an interview. “Pretty much every worker in New Jersey is protected, except for casino workers.”

The lawsuit was filedagainst Gov. Philip D. Murphy and the state’s acting health commissioner, Kaitlin Baston. It asks the court to strike down the legal loophole exempting casinos from the statewide ban on indoor smoking.

Most states with legalized gambling prohibit smoking inside casinos. Even in states where it is allowed, some casino operators have banned it. Atlantic City, the nation’s most prominent gambling hub outside of Nevada, has become the last major refuge for smokers in the Northeast. (Most casinos in Las Vegas also allow smoking.)

The issue has long been contentious in New Jersey. In 2022, when legislation to prohibit smoking inside casinos was considered, the organization representing casinos opposed it. It argued that such a ban would be bad for business, at a time when they were contending with the lingering effects of the pandemic as well as the prospect of new competition from casinos in or around New York City.

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