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Massachusetts Voters Rethinking Casinos?

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2015 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Polling Institute Survey Finds Support for Gambling Slipping

Survey also finds backing for regulating fantasy sports games

Just over a year since voters endorsed the state’s plans to license up to three casinos in Massachusetts, residents may be feeling some buyers’ remorse, according to the latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The survey of 404 adults, conducted Nov. 8-15, found that 51 percent support the state’s plans for casinos, down from 59 percent in spring 2014 and the lowest level of support since the Polling Institute began measuring opinions on the issue in 2009. Forty-one percent of adults said they oppose establishing casinos, up from 34 percent in spring 2014.

The gap between support and opposition has dropped from 25 percentage points in favor of casinos in spring 2014 to 10 percentage points in the latest survey among the sample of adults. The gap was even narrower among the 354 registered voters in the latest survey, with 50 percent backing casinos and 45 percent opposed, compared to 60 percent of voters in favor and 34 percent opposed in spring 2014. Voters defeated a ballot initiative in November 2014 that would have outlawed casino gambling in the state by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said that residents may be re-thinking their support as detailed plans for casinos emerge. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded licenses for casinos in Springfield and Everett. MGM Springfield, developer of the casino in Springfield, recently announced significant changes to the scope of the project. Also, the proposed casino in Everett has faced a series of legal challenges.

“As state and local governments and developers wrestle with the details of establishing the casinos, residents may be developing some reservations about the projects,” Vercellotti said.

The Polling Institute also measured residents’ familiarity with fantasy sports games, in which players assemble hypothetical teams of professional athletes and compete against fantasy teams assembled by other players. The survey found that roughly half of adults – 47 percent – were very familiar or somewhat familiar with fantasy sports games, while 52 percent were not very familiar or not at all familiar.

The survey asked respondents whether they thought states should regulate fantasy sports games in which players compete for money. Forty-two percent of adults said they support state regulation, while 27 percent were opposed and 28 percent said they had not thought much about the issue.

As the level of familiarity with fantasy sports games increased, however, so did support for state regulation. Among adults who said they were very familiar with fantasy sports games, 59 percent said they support state regulation, while 22 percent were opposed. Among those who were somewhat familiar with fantasy sports games, 53 percent said they would back state regulation, and 30 percent were opposed.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is exploring whether the state needs to regulate fantasy sports games, and if so, how. Vercellotti said that as policy makers engage in an increasing amount of discussion as to whether to regulate the games, public awareness will grow and public opinion could shift.

“The large percentage of survey respondents who said they have not thought much about the issue suggests that public opinion may be soft when it comes to the question of regulation right now,” Vercellotti said. “It is telling, however, that those who are most familiar with fantasy sports games are most likely to see the need for regulation. It will be interesting to see whether support for regulation grows as the policy debate over fantasy sports games continues.”

Casinos, on the other hand, have been a central point of debate among state and local officials in Massachusetts for many years. One of the central elements of the debate is the impact that casinos may have on the quality of life in the state and on the communities where the casinos are located.

The Polling Institute’s latest survey found an increase in concerns that casinos will negatively affect the quality of life in Massachusetts. Twenty-five percent of adults said they think that casinos will improve the quality of life in the state, down slightly from the 28 percent who offered that response the last time the Polling Institute asked the question in a November 2013 survey. But 35 percent said casinos would reduce the quality of life in the state, up nine percentage points from the November 2013 survey. Among registered voters, the percentage saying casinos would reduce the quality of life in the state rose 12 points, from 27 percent in November 2013 to 39 percent in the latest survey.

On the other hand, an increasing proportion of residents – 31 percent -- said they think casinos will improve the quality of life in the communities where they are located, up from 21 percent in the November 2013 survey. The percentage saying casinos would reduce the quality of life in the communities where they are located was virtually unchanged, at 40 percent in the latest survey compared to 39 percent in November 2013.

“Survey respondents are still more likely to hold a pessimistic view about casinos’ impact on the quality of life in the communities where they are located, but the gap between pessimism and optimism has fallen from 18 points in 2013 to nine points in the latest survey,” Vercellotti noted. “Survey respondents may be concluding that some significant local benefits may come from the projects, even though there continues to be sizable concern about negative effects as well.”