High Stakes: Lawsuit Sparks Debate Over Smoking Ban in NJ’s Casino Industry!

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin has advocated for the dismissal of a lawsuit aiming to prohibit smoking in Atlantic City casinos.

In a brief submitted on Monday evening, Platkin, representing the state in the lawsuit naming Governor Phil Murphy and acting Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston as defendants, urged the state Superior Court in Mercer County to reject a request by casino workers for a preliminary injunction. He argued that challenging a long-standing exemption allowing smoking in certain areas of casinos through a preliminary injunction is not the appropriate course of action.

Platkin emphasized, “Such relief is not the appropriate mechanism to challenge a statute that has been on the books for over 18 years.” He highlighted that the primary purpose of a preliminary injunction is to maintain the status quo while the parties fully litigate and develop a record on the merits of the constitutional claims.

Furthermore, Platkin stated in the filing that the exemption to the state smoking ban for casinos does not infringe upon workers’ equal protection rights, as they “do not identify any basis to apply a more demanding level of scrutiny than rational basis.”

“Although Plaintiffs assert — circularly and without supporting authority—that their claims implicate their rights to safety and equal protection, neither is itself a fundamental right that can justify a heightened standard of review,” Platkin argued. “Plaintiffs do not allege, nor can they, that casino workers are a suspect class.”

The filing also warned that granting relief to the workers would disrupt the established status quo, potentially affecting the businesses and livelihoods of third parties, including the casinos, their management, and dissenting casino workers. Platkin emphasized that such actions could lead to economic consequences, contrary to the intentions of the Legislature when enacting the Smoke-Free Air Act.

Regarding the lawsuit’s objectives, it follows years of legislative inactivity in Trenton to modify the exemption granted to casinos from the 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act.

Workers involved in the lawsuit allege a violation of their constitutional right to safe working conditions, citing the persistent exposure to smoke at work, which they claim has resulted in chronic illnesses and, in some instances, death.

While a bill sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Vitale proposing a smoking ban in casinos cleared the committee in the upper chamber, it has not progressed further. Similarly, a companion bill has not advanced in the Assembly. Comparable legislation has been introduced in each legislative session for nearly two decades.

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