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Workers in Atlantic City casino smoking lawsuit slam ‘toxic’ workplace; state emphasizes taxes

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A group of casino workers in Atlantic City asked a judge Monday to ban smoking in gambling halls, citing the toxic effects of working in a “toxic” atmosphere, while the state said quitting Smoking could endanger half of your health. billions of money for seniors and the disabled.

Supreme Court Justice Patrick Bartels did not rule after both sides presented their cases, but said he wants to do so “as soon as possible.”

A ruling banning smoking in the nine casinos would be a seismic event for the city’s gambling industry, whose core business – money won from in-person gamblers – has still not returned to pre-COVID-19 outbreak levels in 2020.

But it would be an equally impactful change for workers who say they are tired of breathing in other people’s smoke to make a living, and who cite illnesses they attribute to secondhand smoke, including bronchitis, asthma and other conditions to the respiratory tract, including various diseases. cases of cancer.

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

Currently, smoking is allowed on 25% of the casino floor in Atlantic City. But those areas are not contiguous, and the practical effect is that passive smoking is present in varying degrees throughout the casino floor.

A lawsuit filed last month by the United Auto Workers, which represents dealers at Bally’s, Caesars and Tropicana casinos, seeks to overturn New Jersey’s indoor smoking law, which bans it in virtually every workplace except in casinos.

“The purpose of the law is to protect workers from illness and death,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney who filed the lawsuit. It “is not intended to put money in the pockets of the casinos. We are trying to end a special law that favors casinos and seriously harms workers.”

She also raised the issues of equal protection under the law, and what she called a constitutional right to safety.

But Deputy Attorney General Robert McGuire, who represents Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s acting health commissioner, said no such constitutional right exists. Murphy has said he will sign a smoking ban into law, but has recently raised concerns about the casinos’ economic case.

Citizens have the freedom to pursue security and happiness, but nowhere does the government guarantee them those things as a right, McGuire said.

McGuire also repeatedly cited the state’s Casino Revenue Fund, which pays 8% of casino revenues to fund programs for seniors and the disabled. In fiscal year 2024, he said, $526 million from the fund will be spent on such programs.

The implication was that this money would be at risk if smoking is banned and the casinos do less business because smokers take their money elsewhere.

Opponents of smoking dispute that the casinos would lose revenue, citing a study showing that casinos that quit smoking fared better financially without smoking.

Smith said the argument that “people need to be poisoned” so casinos can thrive and generate more state tax revenue is “abhorrent” and “shocking.”

Seth Ptasiewicz, an attorney for casino workers who want to enforce current smoking policies, said a steep economic decline followed the imposition of smoking bans in several places, including Atlantic City, which tried in 2008 only to quickly change course after a smoking ban of 19.8 years. % drop in casino revenue in two weeks.

These workers “understand that (smoking) is part of the job, and they accept it,” he said, adding, “No job is 100% safe.”

One of his clients, Local 54 of the union Unite Here, said in court filings that he fears a third of its 10,000 members could lose their jobs if smoking is banned.

Attorney Christopher Porrino, representing the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the state Legislature has had nearly half a century to change Atlantic City’s smoking policy and chose not to.

“In just a few weeks, it will be 46 years since the first casino opened in Atlantic City,” he said. “From that day on and every day since, casino patrons have smoked continuously.”

The anti-smoking workers are in the fourth year of a campaign to end smoking in Atlantic City casinos, which previously relied on political efforts to get lawmakers to change the law.

But those efforts have yet to bear fruit. Shortly after a bill that would end smoking emerged from a Senate committee, other lawmakers introduced a competing bill that would continue to allow smoking on 25% of the casino floor but reconfigure where it is allowed. According to the bill, no employee may work in a smoking area against his will.

Neither measure has been implemented for months.

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