Casino Dismisses Worker Seeking Smoking Ban

Trenton – When the Tropicana opened its doors in Atlantic City 25 years ago, Vincent Rennich was a 24-year-old overseeing bets and payouts at the craps tables.

Over the years, Mr. Rennich was promoted to floor supervisor, sent two children to college and steered clear of efforts to bring in a union to represent casino workers.

Although he never smoked, he received a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2005, and he blamed the second-hand smoke he inhaled at the casino.

Mr. Rennich filed a civil suit against the Tropicana last July seeking damages and pushing to have smoking banned on casino floors in New Jersey, the only entertainment sites that are exempt from the state’s smoking ban.

Over the weekend, Mr. Rennich was laid off by the Tropicana.

“How can they fire a guy with lung cancer?” Mr. Rennich asked. “What, I’m suddenly no good after 25 years?”

A casino spokeswoman, Courtney Birmingham, declined to comment except to say that Mr. Rennich was not the only person let go last weekend. Mr. Rennich said that 17 other long-time employees were laid off in what the casino – which was bought last year by Columbia Sussex, a Kentucky-based company – described to them as “restructuring.”

Mr. Rennich’s dismissal came a week after he spoke before the Senate Health Committee here in favor of a bill to eliminate the smoking exemption for casinos.

And a month ago he addressed the City Council in Atlantic City – at times emotional and darkly humorous – vainly urging the rejection of a compromise ordinance that allows smoking in 25 percent of the gambling areas in the city’s 11 casinos.

Mr. Rennich, 48, learned that he had lung cancer by chance when he was hospitalized after an automobile accident. He underwent surgery to have a portion of his right lung removed, and returned to work five months later.

“This is all I’ve done,” he said in explaining why he returned to his USD 55,000-a-year job. “I personally didn’t think they would fire me considering how high profile and public I have been in the antismoking effort. But now I’m all in.”

State Senator Joseph F. Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex County, who is sponsoring legislation that would end the smoking exemption, said it appeared that in letting Mr. Rennich go, the casino’s new owners made a business decision to replace several longtime employees with part-time workers who earn less.

“It’s more than just fundamentally unfair,” Mr. Vitale said. “It is a pathetic way to design a business model.”

Mr. Rennich said he was determined to keep pressing his lawsuit against the Tropicana, which he noted would not benefit him personally “because I’ll be dead.” For now, he said, his main concern was how to pay for private health insurance that he estimated would cost USD 800 a month.

“If I was the worst employee in the history of gaming,” he asked, “how could they get rid of me at this point?”