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Poll Finds Support for Casinos Remains Strong

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2013 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Majority back casinos for state, but not in their communities

Three out of five adults in Massachusetts say they favor having casinos in the state, but a majority also say they do not want to see a casino in their community, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The statewide telephone survey of 517 adults, conducted Nov. 5 – 11, 2013, found that 61 percent of adults said they support establishing casinos in Massachusetts, while 33 percent were opposed and six percent were either undecided or declined to answer the question. The margin of sampling error for the survey was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

While support for casinos in the state was strong, a majority of survey respondents - 55 percent - said they would oppose having a casino in their community. Forty-two percent supported having a casino in their community. Three percent were undecided or declined to answer the question.

Results from the latest survey were consistent with casino data that the Polling Institute has collected in recent years. Fifty-eight percent of adults supported casinos in the state in a survey that the Polling Institute conducted in April 2010, and 56 percent backed casinos in an October 2009 survey. Fifty-three percent of adults opposed having a casino in their community in the April 2010 survey, and 57 percent were opposed in the 2009 survey.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, noted that survey results have remained consistent while state lawmakers have debated and adopted casino legislation and communities have voted on casino proposals.

"One of the striking aspects of the casino data is the stability of public opinion given the major developments in this policy area over the past few years," Vercellotti said.

Under a state law adopted in 2011, the state will license up to three resort casinos, with one in each of three regions in the state, and one slots machine parlor for the entire state. The law requires that the host community or communities for a proposed casino or slots machine parlor approve the proposal in a referendum before the state will consider granting a license.

The latest Polling Institute survey went into the field on the evening of Nov. 5, the same day that voters participated in referendums on two casino proposals in Massachusetts. Voters in Palmer narrowly defeated a proposed casino, and a recount is pending. Voters in East Boston defeated a casino proposal, while voters in Revere approved the same proposal, which called for a casino complex that would straddle the Boston-Revere municipal boundary. Voters also defeated a proposed casino in West Springfield in September, but voters approved casinos in Springfield and Everett over the summer. Voters in Milford are scheduled to cast ballots on a proposed casino there on Tuesday.

Voters’ decisions to reject casino proposals in various parts of the state this fall have given hope to casino opponents, who are gathering signatures for a proposed ballot initiative that would overturn the state law that authorized casinos. Vercellotti noted that the latest survey data indicate that a majority of residents still support casinos, just not necessarily in their own communities.

"The poll results suggest there is a ‘not in my backyard’ mindset when it comes to casinos in Massachusetts," Vercellotti said. "Residents still seem to want casinos, just not too close to home."

Cross-tabulating responses to the two questions - whether to support casinos and whether to support one in the local community - shows how public opinion is distributed on both issues. Forty-one percent of residents support both establishing casinos and having one in their community. Another 31 percent oppose allowing casinos in the state and also oppose locating one in their town. Nineteen percent endorse having casinos in Massachusetts, but do not want one in their community. Another five percent said they do not know or declined to give an answer regarding casinos in the state, but they also said they do not want to have a casino near where they live.

Overall support for casinos inched up to 61 percent, a three-point increase from the April 2010 survey, but the change is within the margin of error of 4.3 percentage points for the latest survey. Among registered voters, those identifying themselves as Democrats or independents were more likely to support casinos than Republicans, with 62 percent of Democrats and independents backing casinos compared to 51 percent of Republicans. Among all adults in the survey, men were slightly more likely than women to support casinos, 64 percent versus 58 percent. Age also was a factor, with 78 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 backing casinos compared to 46 percent of adults ages 65 and older.

Support for casinos was fairly consistent across the three regions that the state has created for licensing purposes, with plans to authorize one casino in each region. In Region A, which includes Boston, surrounding suburbs, the North Shore and Central Massachusetts, 61 percent supported establishing three casinos in the state. Sixty-two percent of adults in Region B, which consists of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties in Western Massachusetts, supported casinos, while 65 percent of adults in Region C – the South Shore and Cape Cod – backed casinos.

Views regarding support for a casino in one’s community varied by gender, age, education and income. Women were more likely than men to oppose having a casino in their community, 59 percent to 51 percent. Sixty percent of adults ages 65 and older were opposed, compared to 46 percent of adults ages 18 to 34. Sixty-two percent of college graduates opposed having a casino in their community, compared to 51 percent of adults with a high school diploma or less. Sixty percent of respondents with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more opposed the idea, compared to 47 percent of respondents with annual household incomes under $35,000.

"That opposition was lower among younger people, as well as among those with lower incomes or less education may reflect the view that casinos would bring jobs to their communities," Vercellotti said. "These are the demographic groups that might focus more on the perceived economic benefits of casinos than on any negative effects."

Also consistent with previous surveys was the extent to which respondents said they would go to a casino in Massachusetts to gamble. Fourteen percent said they would be very likely to go to a casino to gamble, identical to the percentage that gave that response in the October 2009 survey. Twenty-eight percent said they could be somewhat likely to go to a casino to gamble, up five percentage points from the October 2009 survey.

Interest in attending a casino to see a show or concert fluctuated in the latest survey, with 40 percent saying they would be very likely to do so, up eight points from the October 2009 survey. Twenty-seven percent said they would be somewhat likely, down eight points from the October 2009 survey.

Among the three regions that would host casinos, respondents in Region C, which includes the South Shore and Cape Cod, were more interested in both activities than their counterparts elsewhere in the state. Sixty percent of respondents in Region C said they would be very or somewhat likely to gamble, compared to 37 percent in Region A (the Boston area, the North Shore and Central Massachusetts) and 34 percent in Region B (Western Massachusetts). Eighty-one percent of respondents in Region C said they would be very or somewhat likely to see a show or concert, compared to 62 percent in Region A and 67 percent in Region B.

Survey respondents were split fairly evenly over whether casinos would improve or reduce the quality of life in Massachusetts, with 28 percent saying improve, 26 percent saying reduce, and 41 percent saying the casinos would make no difference.

Opinions varied to a greater extent over whether casinos would improve or reduce the quality of life in the communities where they are located, with 21 percent saying improve, 39 percent saying reduce, and 31 percent saying casinos would not make a difference. Groups most likely to say casinos would reduce the quality of life in the host communities included Republican voters (45 percent), men (42 percent), college graduates (48 percent), and respondents with annual household incomes of $70,000 or more (40 percent).

"The results regarding casinos’ potential effects on the quality of life illustrate some of the nuance associated with public opinion on these issues," Vercellotti said. "Residents are pretty evenly divided over the statewide impact of casinos, but they are more likely to predict a negative effect than a positive effect on the quality of life in the host communities. That seems consistent with the idea that people see casinos as being good for the state, but not necessarily good for their own communities."

Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research.