Gambling

New Jersey AG, Unite Here Ask Court to Dismiss Smoking Lawsuit

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Posted on: April 30, 2024, 12:50h. 

Last updated on: April 30, 2024, 12:56h.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin, representing the legal interests of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, has asked New Jersey’s Superior Court to dismiss a lawsuit against the state challenging a smoking law that allows casinos in Atlantic City to designate up to 25% of their gaming space for indoor tobacco consumption.

New Jersey Atlantic City casino smoking lawsuit
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Patkin (left) stands alongside Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in February 2022 after being nominated to the state’s chief legal role. Platkin wants a state court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state’s permittance of indoor smoking at Atlantic City casinos. (Image: NorthJersey.com)

The United Auto Workers (UAW) and Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court in early April naming Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston as defendants. The litigation alleges that New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act violates the state constitution.

The UAW represents table game dealers at three casinos, jobs which are most exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke inside the nine casinos. CEASE is a grassroots organization consisting of casino workers who demand a clean-air workplace.

In his brief to the Superior Court, Platkin argues the lawsuit is meritless. He opined that the 2006 smoking law that provides exemptions for casinos “does not infringe on any purported constitutional right to safety.”

Unions at Odds

Attorneys for UAW and CEASE in the lawsuit against the state point to wording in the New Jersey Constitution that says “all persons … have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are … pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.” The smoking law, the lawsuit claims, violates that condition.

The lawsuit asserts the state constitution also mandates that the legislature not pass any special laws or grant to any corporation exclusive privilege or immunity.

In this case, rich corporate casinos are excluded from the Smoke-Free Air Act, giving them the exclusive right to endanger the lives of their workers,” the lawsuit alleges.

While the UAW is bankrolling the lawsuit that includes CEASE, another union in Atlantic City, Unite Here Local 54, opposes closing the smoking loophole. Unite Here brass says a smoking ban would be “catastrophic” to the Atlantic City casino industry and threaten a third of the resort jobs.

Unite Here represents casino workers employed in nongaming positions like housekeepers, waiters, kitchen employees, bellmen, and porters.

A total smoking ban would place thousands of jobs at risk, endangering the wages, health and welfare benefits, and retirement benefits of Local 54 members and their families,” the union wrote in its court response.

Employment attorney Nancy Erika Smith, who filed the lawsuit on UAW and CEASE’s behalf, told the Associated Press that she’s “never seen a union fight against the health and safety of their members, not once.”

Unite Here Local 54 President Donna DeCaprio rejected that assertion.

“We support the health and safety of our members, and believe that improvements to the current work environment must be made,” DeCaprio responded. “A balance needs to be reached that will both protect worker health and preserve good jobs.”

Smoking Sections Fuel Revenue

DeCaprio contends that between 50% to 72% of the gross gaming revenue (GGR) won by the casinos last year was derived from smoking sections. The nine casinos collectively won more than $2.84 billion from their physical slot machines and table games in 2023, meaning the union boss thinks at least $1.42 billion came from smoking areas.

CEASE rejects the accuracy of that claim and points to independent research conducted in 2022 by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming that found the exclusion of smoking “no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue.”  

The UAW says the revenue talking points made by Unite Here have no relevance in its legal filing challenging the state’s smoking law. Murphy, however, said recently that he thinks the matter should be resolved through legislative action, not a courtroom.  

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