⚫ A planned vote on a casino smoking bill never happened Thursday

⚫ The bill may be considered again in December

⚫ The casino industry continues to fight back against a total smoking ban

TRENTON — Bus loads of casino workers trekked to the New Jersey Statehouse on Thursday to witness something they had been waiting to see for years: a legislative vote on a bill to completely ban smoking inside Atlantic City's gaming halls.

That vote never actually happened.

But those who made the trip did get to hear from the casino industry, which believes a 100% ban on smoking would significantly hurt the resort city.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, intended to have his panel advance S264 Thursday afternoon. But following about 90 minutes of testimony, Vitale said that the measure was one vote short of being able to move forward.

"We don't have a majority in support today, but I believe we will," Vitale told a packed committee room.

Casino workers push for smoking ban

The proposal has majority support on both sides of the political aisle in the New Jersey Legislature, and Gov. Phil Murphy has indicated that he would sign a casino smoking ban bill if one were to ever reach his desk.

Still, impassioned testimony from current casino workers wasn't enough to advance the measure.

"What we face on a daily basis is degrading and cruel," said Nicole Vitola, a dealer at Borgata. "While on the job, we have to endure hours of inhaling secondhand smoke mere inches away from our faces without the ability to move away, turn our heads, or wave the smoke away."

NJ's indoor smoking rules

Casinos were exempted from New Jersey's law that bans smoking in public businesses. Smoking is permitted on 25% of a casino floor under current rules.

"It's incredible that we're here begging again to have the same thing everyone else has," said Lamont White, another Borgata dealer. "We don't want anything special. All we want is what everybody else gets."

Health advocates also spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that casino workers should not have to choose between a paycheck and their health.

Joe Dougherty, an attorney for the Casino Association of New Jersey, told the Senate Health panel that a total prohibition on smoking in Atlantic City casinos would result in a reduction in jobs and a "reduction in development."

"Fewer people will come to Atlantic City if there is a complete ban," Dougherty said. "Fewer people will eat there, drink there, buy drinks, stay there."

According to the group C.E.A.S.E (Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects), casinos are seeking a compromise by offering alternatives to a ban, such as "Phillip Morris smoking rooms in which workers would supposedly volunteer to work."

"It's an absurd idea and every legislator should reject it," the group said. "We won't compromise our health."

Sen. Vitale said he expects his bill to receive a vote in December.

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