Atlantic City unions clash in court over tobacco lawsuit targeting casinos

  • New Jersey's attorney general and Atlantic City's main casino workers' union are seeking to dismiss the suit.
  • The lawsuit seeks to ban smoking in Atlantic City's nine casinos.
  • The debate over banning smoking extends beyond Atlantic City to other states where workers worry about second-hand smoke.

Atlantic City's main casino workers' union and New Jersey's attorney general asked a judge Monday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by another union seeking to ban smoking at the city's nine casinos.

Local 54 of the Unite Here union said in a filing in state Superior Court that a third of the 10,000 workers it represents would risk losing their jobs and the means to support their families if smoking was prohibited.

Currently, smoking is permitted on 25% of the casino floor. But these areas are not contiguous, and the practical effect is that second-hand smoke is present to varying degrees throughout the casino.


A lawsuit filed earlier this month by the United Auto Workers, which represents casino concessionaires Bally's, Caesars and Tropicana, aims to overturn New Jersey's indoor smoking law, which bans it in virtually all workplaces, except casinos.

Protest in New Jersey

Casino workers in favor of Atlantic City's smoking ban demonstrate outside a courthouse in Trenton, New Jersey, on April 5, 2024, after filing a lawsuit seeking to impose a smoking ban. On Monday, Atlantic City's main casino workers' union asked a judge to let it intervene in the lawsuit. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin, representing Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the state health department, said the state's indoor smoking law does not deny any group of people equal protection under the law “and does not infringe on any purported constitutional right to security.” ” urging the court to reject it.

Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney who filed the suit, reacted with disbelief to Local 54's request.

“I have never seen a union fight against the health and safety of its members, not once,” she said. “Fortunately, Unite’s economic arguments, although false, have absolutely no bearing on the constitutional issue at hand.”


Donna DeCaprio is president of Local 54, which represents hotel employees, beverage servers, baggage handlers, public area cleaners and other workers at the nine casinos.

“We support the health and safety of our members and believe improvements need to be made to the current work environment,” she said Monday. “We need to find a balance that will protect the health of workers and preserve good jobs.”

DeCaprio said a total smoking ban would be “catastrophic” for Atlantic City, adding that between 50 and 72 percent of all gambling revenue earned by in-person players comes from smoking sections.

The union supports legislation introduced earlier this year that would maintain the current limit of 25% of casino floor space on which smoking is permitted.

But it would allow smoking in unenclosed areas of the casino containing slot machines and designated as smoking areas located more than 15 feet from table games operated by live dealers. It would also allow casinos to offer smoking in enclosed, separately ventilated smoking rooms, provided that no worker could be assigned to work in such a room against their will.

Banning smoking is one of the most controversial issues, not only in Atlantic City casinos, but in other states where workers have expressed concerns about second-hand smoke. They are running similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Virginia.

“A total smoking ban would put thousands of jobs at risk, jeopardizing the wages, health, welfare and retirement benefits of Local 54 members and their families,” the union wrote in his court file.


He noted that in 2008, when the Atlantic City City Council imposed a short-lived total smoking ban, casino revenues fell 19.8 percent in the first week, leading to the enactment of the current 25% smoking area on the casino floors.

These workers, including many table game dealers, say banning smoking would actually attract enough customers to more than offset the loss of smokers going elsewhere.

Nicole Vitola, a Borgata merchant and one of the anti-tobacco leaders, accused Local 54 of being the same thing as casino management.

“Instead of fighting for the health and safety of workers, Local 54 is fighting in court to allow casinos to continue poisoning their members with toxic second-hand smoke,” she said.


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