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July 01, 2021

N.J.'s temporary ban on smoking in casinos expires on Sunday

But Gov. Murphy has signaled an openness to supporting a permanent prohibition of the practice in the state's gambling halls

Government Casinos
New Jersey casinos smoking ban DrVenkman/Creative Commons

New Jersey's temporary ban on smoking in casinos took effect last July amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting Sunday, gamblers can light up a cigarette or cigar at New Jersey's casinos for the first time in over a year.

The state's temporary ban on smoking in casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic will expire July 4, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.

The legislation and executive order that ended New Jersey's COVID-19 public health emergency last month contained a "sunset" provision to end the state's temporary ban on smoking in casinos within 30 days, according to the Associated Press.

However, Murphy said he would be open to supporting legislation that would permanently ban smoking in casinos. The bill is currently in the state legislature but has yet to come up for a vote.

"Would I be open-minded, would I be constructive on legislation — because I need to do this statutorily — that could come to me in the future to extend that ban or make it permanent? I would be constructive," Murphy said.

Casinos are exempt from a 2006 state law that bans smoking in bars and restaurants, according to Local Atlantic City law limits smoking to no more than 25% of the casino floor.

But after the state walked back its original plans to resume indoor dining last July, smoking was banned within the indoor premises of any retail, recreational or entertainment business. That prohibition included casinos, which were cleared to reopen last July at 25% capacity. 

Smoking remained prohibited inside casinos when indoor dining finally resumed in New Jersey last September, as state officials cited the COVID-19 health and safety risks it posed to guests and staff. Casinos are now operating at full occupancy after being forced to close last March at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Casino workers and anti-smoking advocates have called for a permanent ban, citing the impact the practice can have on the health and safety of guests and staff.

However, casino operators are opposed to such a measure, saying it could cause long-term financial strain by leading to fewer customers, fewer jobs and lower tax revenue. Nevertheless, Atlantic City casinos saw profits rise by 11% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same time period in 2019.

Some gamblers would also argue that smoking is part of the gaming experience, while others would say that the ban has led to a breath of fresh air in the casinos.

Casinos in 20 states are currently smoke-free, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Smoking is already prohibited on all New Jersey beaches as part of an expansion of the state's no-smoking law in 2018. Fines for those caught smoking on beaches in New Jersey start at $250 for a first offense and go up to $1,000 for a third offense.

The amended law contained a clause that allowed for municipal governments to pass an ordinance designating areas equaling no more than 15% of their total beach acreage for smoking. The areas must be indicated by signage.

Some beach towns, including Ocean City and the Wildwoods, have implemented their own local bans.

When outdoor dining resumed last June, smoking was banned in any outdoor dining area as long as indoor dining remained prohibited.

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