Labor unions split over banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos. The mayor is against.

The debate over banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos has intensified in recent weeks, with major unions representing gambling hall workers taking opposing positions and the city’s mayor saying he opposes such a ban. .

United Auto Workers wrote a letter to lawmakers last week calling on them to hold hearings on a bill that would close a 16-year-old loophole allowing casinos to be excluded from a 2006 law banning smoking in most indoor public places in New Jersey.

“Our members include dealers who sit inches from customers who blow smoke directly in their faces for eight hours a day, every day,” reads the letter on behalf of workers at Caesars, Bally’s and Tropicana. . “How much we know about the dangers of second-hand smoke is simply unacceptable. No worker in the state of New Jersey should have to breathe in cancer-causing chemicals every day.

It’s a break from the other major Atlantic City casino workers’ union, Unite Here, which represents workers who have non-profit jobs in casinos. Bob McDevitt, president of the union’s Local 54, wrote a letter last month to state Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, urging lawmakers not to pass the ban.

“While we want to make sure our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and across the state, as well as lost tax revenue. and less money for senior programs,” McDevitt wrote.

Meanwhile, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small said New Jersey Politics on Thursday, he also opposes a ban.

“I’m against it,” Small told the website, citing how Revel, a casino that closed in 2014, was once the only gambling hall in Atlantic City to ban smoking but reversed course after had financial problems.

“We had a perfect example of a no-smoking casino with former Revel,” Small said.

Although a ban has been discussed for years, the effort came to nothing until recently, as a growing number of lawmakers from both major political parties signed on as sponsors of the bill (S264). Governor Phil Murphy said he supported him.

It remains unclear whether the bill will advance through the state legislature. Both houses – the Senate and the Assembly – would have to pass it before Murphy can sign it. But the measure was not scheduled for a hearing.

The casino industry vehemently opposes the move, saying it would hurt casino finances at a time when they are still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and thus hurt Atlantic City’s economy. Opponents of the ban warn that smokers will simply gamble in other neighboring states.

Joe Lupo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the casino trade group, warned that employment at the city’s gambling halls was already at a 20-year low, while rising gambling prices gasoline and tolls have hurt the city’s footfall.

“Adding a smoking ban could have a devastating effect on the community and the state,” Lupo, who is also president of the city’s Hard Rock Casino, told The Associated Press earlier this month. this.

But the United Auto Workers union dismissed the economic warning as a ‘scare tactic’ and insisted it was ‘certain’ the bill would pass if put to a vote.

“We will not sit idly by and watch our members choose between their health and their jobs,” reads the union’s letter. “We all have the right to breathe clean air in our workplaces.”

Lamont White, an Atlantic City dealer since 1985, recently told NJ Advance Media that “inhumane” casinos still allow smoking, noting that “no one else in the state has to deal with it.” .

Pete Naccarelli, dealer since 1996, adds: “Our argument is health. How much is my life worth?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson can be attached to bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsb01.