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Massachusetts Residents Continue to Back Casinos

THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2016 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Majority favors casinos in the state, but many residents oppose having one in their town

Casinos remain popular as a concept in Massachusetts, just so long as they are located in someone else's community, according to the latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The statewide survey of 477 adults, conducted March 31 – April 7, found that 59 percent of adults said they support establishing casinos in Massachusetts, while 34 percent were opposed and seven percent were either undecided or declined to answer the question. The margin of sampling error for the survey was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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

The results were almost identical to the Polling Institute's previous survey on the issue, conducted Nov. 5-11, 2013. In that survey of 517 adults, 61 percent supported establishing casinos in the state, while 33 percent were opposed. When asked whether they support or oppose having a casino in their community, 55 percent of adults in the November 2013 survey said they oppose the idea, while 42 percent said they support a casino in their community.

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 adults support both establishing casinos and having one in their community. Another 34 percent oppose allowing casinos in the state and also oppose locating one in their town. Eighteen percent endorse having casinos in Massachusetts, but do not want one in their community. Another three percent said they do not know or declined to give an answer regarding casinos in the state, but they said they do not want to have a casino near where they live.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, noted that the latest results are roughly consistent with Polling Institute findings from surveys dating to 2009.

“This consistency exists even with the many recent developments regarding casinos in Massachusetts,” 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 parlor. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently approved a license for a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, MA, and the commission has said it expects to award licenses for casinos in two of the three regions later this year.

Several communities have voted on whether to approve casinos in the past 12 months. Casino proposals have passed in Everett, Springfield and Revere, and they have been defeated in East Boston, Milford, Palmer and West Springfield.

Voters' decisions to reject casino proposals in various parts of the state have given hope to casino opponents, who have proposed a ballot initiative that would overturn the state law that authorized casinos. State Attorney General Martha Coakley rejected the ballot question last year, concluding that it would amount to an unjust taking of property from casino companies and their partners. Casino opponents have asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to overturn Coakley's decision, and the court is scheduled to hear the case in May. If the court rules in favor of casino opponents, the ballot question could go before voters in the Nov. 4, 2014 election.

The latest survey results showed little difference in sentiment between the sample of 477 adults and a sub-sample of 424 adults who said they are registered to vote. Among registered voters, 60 percent said they support establishing casinos in Massachusetts, while 34 percent said they were opposed and six percent said they did not know or declined to answer the question.

Registered voters also responded in a pattern similar to all adults when asked about having a casino in their community. Fifty-four percent of voters said they oppose having a casino in their community, while 42 percent said they were in favor and four percent said they did not know or declined to respond.

Vercellotti pointed out that the survey results should not be viewed as a prediction of how voters might respond to a ballot question on casinos in the fall.

“If the court permits the question to go before the voters, then developers and citizen groups would likely shift into campaign mode,” Vercellotti said. “We could see voters’ attitudes, interest, and motivation shift much as they might in any political campaign. The latest results simply reflect the state of public opinion on the issue at this point in time.”

The survey also asked respondents how important the issue of casinos was to them personally. Eighteen percent of adults said very important, 41 percent said somewhat important, 30 percent said not very important, and 11 percent said not at all important. Among registered voters, 20 percent said the issue was very important, 42 percent said somewhat important, 30 percent said not very important, and eight percent said not at all important.

The measure of issue importance revealed an enthusiasm gap regarding casinos, Vercellotti said. While 60 percent of all registered voters supported establishing casinos in the state, and 34 percent were opposed, the numbers flip among voters for whom the issue was very important.

Among registered voters who said the issue was very important, 57 percent opposed establishing casinos in the state, and only 40 percent supported the idea. Among those same voters, 62 percent opposed having a casino in their community, and only 37 percent supported the idea, compared to 54 percent and 42 percent respectively for the entire sample of registered voters.

“Among voters who view this issue as very important to them personally, opposition to casinos is much higher and support is much lower compared to the entire sample,” Vercellotti said. “These individuals may be more motivated to organize and get out the vote if the casino question appears on the ballot in the fall.”

For the entire sample, attitudes regarding casinos varied along the lines of partisanship, gender, age, education and income. Sixty-seven percent of Republican voters said they support establishing casinos in the state, compared to 63 percent of unenrolled voters and 52 percent of Democrats. Men were more likely than women to support casinos by a margin of 64 percent to 54 percent. Support was highest among respondents ages 18 to 39 at 63 percent, falling to 51 percent among those ages 65 and older. Sixty-eight percent of individuals with a high school diploma or less backed casinos, compared to 51 percent of college graduates. Fifty-five percent of respondents with annual household incomes of less than $35,000 supported casinos, while support in higher income categories ranged from 60 percent to 64 percent.

Support was roughly the same in each of the three casino regions in the state: 58 percent in Region A, which includes Boston, surrounding suburbs, the North Shore and Central Massachusetts; 58 percent in Region B, which consists of the four Western Massachusetts counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire; and 57 percent in Region C, which includes the South Shore and Cape Cod.

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.