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Attempt To Repeal Casino Law Lagging

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 - 11:59 PM Polling Institute

More than half of likely voters say they would vote no on proposed casino ban

A majority of voters say they would vote against a ballot question outlawing casinos in Massachusetts, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 416 likely voters, conducted Sept. 20 - 28, found that 52 percent said they would vote no, while 41 percent said they would support the ballot initiative. Six percent said they were undecided, while one percent declined to give an answer.

The likely voters were part of a larger sample of 536 registered voters. When taking into account all registered voters in the survey, the casino ban lagged by 16 points, with 54 percent saying they would vote no and 38 percent saying they would vote yes. The margin of sampling error for the sample of 536 registered voters was plus or minus four percentage points, and the margin of error for the sample of 416 likely voters was plus or minus five percentage points.

“With five weeks until Election Day, the repeal forces have their work cut out for them,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “It is possible to close an 11-point gap, but with the undecided percentage in the single digits, the pro-repeal activists are going to have to convert some no votes to the yes side in order to prevail.”

Voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether to overturn a 2011 state law that authorized licensing up to three casinos – one in each of three regions in the state -- and one slots parlor for the entire state. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded casino licenses to developers in Springfield and Everett, as well as a license for a slots parlor in Plainville.

Repeal the Casino Deal, a nonpartisan organization that was formed to overturn the law, gathered signatures and convinced the state Supreme Judicial Court that the issue should go to the voters as a ballot initiative. The Polling Institute used language from the ballot question in its survey, asking respondents:

“Voters also will vote on a ballot question regarding a state law that allows the state to license up to three casinos in Massachusetts. A yes vote on the ballot question would prohibit casinos, any gaming establishment with slot machines, and wagering on simulcast greyhound races in Massachusetts. A no vote would make no change in the current laws regarding gaming. If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on the ballot question?”

No outpaced yes by double digits across numerous demographic categories among likely voters. Men and women were more likely to say they would vote no as opposed to yes by margins of 52 percent to 42 percent for men and 51 percent to 41 percent for women. No led yes by 12 points among Republicans and independent voters, and by nine points among Democrats.

Support varied by education and household income. No received greater support among respondents with only high school diplomas (55 percent to 32 percent for yes) or some college (61 percent to 37 percent), while college graduates supported no over yes by a much narrower margin, 47 percent to 45 percent. The gap between yes and no also was smallest among likely voters with annual family incomes of $100,000 or more, with 50 percent saying they would vote no and 45 percent saying they would vote yes. In contrast, no led yes by 15 percentage points among voters with annual family incomes of under $35,000, 50 percent to 35 percent

Among the three regions that would host casinos, likely voters in Region C, which includes the South Shore and Cape Cod, were most likely to say they would vote no, 56 percent to 40 percent. In Region A, which is made up of the Boston area, the North Shore and Central Massachusetts, no led yes by 51 percent to 40 percent. In Region B, made up of the four counties in Western Massachusetts, yes led no by five points, 50 percent to 45 percent. 

Roman Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts have spoken in favor of repealing the casino law, and have urged voters to vote yes on the ballot question. But the poll found that a majority of likely voters who identified themselves as Catholic said they would vote no (53 percent) as opposed to yes (41 percent). The gap was narrower among Protestant likely voters, with 48 percent saying they would vote no and 45 percent saying they would vote yes. 

Vercellotti noted that the Catholic Church was credited with helping to convince voters to defeat a ballot question that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide in the state in 2012.  Fifty-five percent of Massachusetts voters who turned out in that election identified themselves as Catholic, according to exit polling sponsored by the National Election Pool. The defeat came after the question had led in polls for several months leading up to the election.

“So far the data do not indicate that Catholic voters as a group are behaving any differently than voters in general when it comes to the casino ballot question,” Vercellotti said. “Either the message from the bishops has not gotten through, or it has not resonated in a significant way. But ballot initiative campaigns have been known to take dramatic turns, and there is still plenty of time for the numbers to shift on this issue.”

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.