Voters Want To Weigh In On Casino Gambling, WBUR Poll Finds

BOSTON — State regulators are busy licensing casinos in Massachusetts, but a new WBUR poll finds voters want a say on whether gambling should even be allowed.

The survey found 52 percent of voters in favor of a proposed ballot question on casinos and 39 percent opposed.  TWEET

John Ribiero, chairman of statewide advocacy group Repeal the Casino Deal, said the poll pointed to increasing uneasiness with casinos.

“One of the basic truths, through all this, is that the more people learn about casinos, the less they like them,” he said.

Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey (topline, crosstabs) for WBUR, said the 13-point margin is solid.

But given the public’s general preference for weighing in on important issues, he cautioned, it’s not overwhelming.

“The margin, honestly, isn’t very wide,” he said. “There’s not a strong preference for a democratic principle here.”

The WBUR poll of 504 likely voters in the November election asked several questions about casinos — and they all suggested a divided electorate.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they approve of locating casinos in Massachusetts and 39 percent disapprove.

The 10-point margin is wider than the three-point gap WBUR found in a March survey. But it still suggests an unsettled electorate.

Poll respondent Jason Fiero, a Medway geologist, said he’s fine with casinos. “I think people are going to gamble,” he said in a follow-up telephone interview, “so I think that casinos probably should be legal.”

But as he spoke, his wife voiced her loud objections to casino gambling, making it difficult to complete the interview. “All right, thanks for interjecting,” he said to his wife, laughing.

It’s not just families that are divided.

The poll found Democrats, for instance, split down the middle on casinos. Koczela, the pollster, said that makes it difficult for gubernatorial candidates to carve out politically advantageous positions.

“There’s a lot of issues where you can look at what Democratic voters think, you can look at what Republican voters think and parse the independents and figure out where you as a candidate should put your stake in the ground,” he said. “This really isn’t one of those issues.”

Four Democratic candidates for governor — Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steven Grossman, homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem and Joseph Avellone, an executive at a biopharmaceutical research firm — have voiced support for casinos. Former Obama administration health care administrator Donald Berwick is opposed.

The poll also asked if voters have confidence in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is overseeing the casino licensing process.

Fifty-two percent said they have “not too much” confidence or “none at all.” Thirty-nine percent have “a great deal” or “a fair amount.”

The Gaming Commission’s chairman, Stephen Crosby, has faced some bad press of late. Two weeks ago, he recused himself from the awarding of a casino license in the Greater Boston area amid concerns about his impartiality.

But Crosby’s struggles don’t seem to be driving public concern about the commission. Seven in 10 voters say they have never heard of Crosby or have no opinion of his job performance. The rest are split on his job performance.

Voters have stronger feelings about another, unrelated question. Eighty-three percent say the abuse of heroin and other opiates in Massachusetts is either a “major problem” or a “crisis.” Fourteen percent say it’s a “minor problem” or “not really a problem.”

Concern is particularly pronounced in the southeast part of the state, widely viewed as an epicenter of the crisis. State data on heroin overdoses is spotty.

Almost four in 10 likely voters say they know someone who has struggled with an addiction to heroin or other opiates in the last year.  TWEET And the numbers are considerably higher among young voters.

Fifty-seven percent of those under age 29 say they know someone who has struggled with addiction.

Whatever the worry about heroin, the poll shows continued support for legalizing marijuana. Forty-nine percent approve and 42 percent are opposed. The numbers are virtually identical to a WBUR poll from two months ago.

Poll results on the issue of opiate abuse were released Monday. More results — on the governor’s race — will be released Thursday.

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  • Lawrence

    People in Massachusetts seem to be making very uninformed decisions about this.

    Isn’t it best if we were to once again vote on this, to understand all of the issues, consequences, and ramifications? To learn about gambling, how it affects communities, families, people first?

    Do people know the difference between sustainable societies and those societies that are dependent upon short-term survival tactics?

    And didn’t we as a state already vote casinos out? Before of course the politicians ignored the will of the people and had their own vote, corrupted undoubtedly by the big money and bribes and under the table deal making.

  • pto

    The funny thing is that before Martha Coakley tried to take away people’s right to vote on the casino question I would have voted for casinos in Massachusetts. However, if casinos are going to undermine democracy in this state by corrupting state officials in a similar way to the way that Martha Coakley has been corrupted by the prospect of all that spreadin’ around money, then I think the answer should be no to casinos.

    Martha Coakley’s claim that banning gambling is not a legitimate subject for a state ballot seems absurd when it was just 2008 when a similar question about banning dog racing was allowed to move forward. The questions are essentially the same and the results of question 3 in 2008 were considered valid, even though the question deprived the dog tracks of licenses that they needed to operate which essentially shut down those businesses.

    If the Supreme Judicial Court decides that ballot questions regarding licensed businesses can’t go forward because it would shut down those businesses and investors would lose money, then perhaps we should revisit the constitutionality of the dog track question… then maybe Revere will get a casino and a dog track back.

    But I hope the SJC will just decide to uphold the right of the people to decide and we won’t have to continue this corrupt legal charade.

    • Lawrence

      No one cares? Everyone is too busy on social media looking at cat videos rather than calling her or their elected officials.

    • Michael Healy

      You have an impressive flair for rhetoric, Sir. “… casinos are going to undermine democracy in this state by corrupting state officials …”, as if the real estate industry, the construction industry, the liquor distribution business, etc., did not similarly “undermine democracy”. This state (and other states too) is rife with special interests; why pick on casinos? Oh, I see, because you don’t happen to like them. But maintaining a prohibition on a transaction between adults freely entered into undermines democracy, no quotes needed.
      That said, I agree with you if you mean to imply that it would have been better for the state to have simply legalized bookmaking. But that’s apparently not going to happen as it would cannibalize the lottery.
      As for Martha Coakley, she’s not the only game in town.

      • pto

        Actually I like casinos and gambling and agree that simply legalizing gambling without creating artificial regional monopolies would have been a more just law… And not going to happen.

        As it stands now you could see people fined and imprisoned for doing the exact same thing as these casinos, with the only difference being that these licensees will have won a license for an artificial monopoly from an unelected commission. Not nearly justice.

        I think the situation with other highly regulated local activities is similarly corrupting. Notably alcohol licensing is rife with local municipal level corruption. Many special permits, especially where large monetary gains are at stake also appear to be an exercise in graft and corruption. Even if we aren’t talking about paper bags full of money we are talking about a system of personal and partisan machine favors.

        The point is that with Billions and Billions at stake the casinos are raising the level of corruption and potential of corruption to a new level.

        Having an AG undermine the democratic principles of the state even if her motivation is purely based on the economics and not horse trading is just a step too far. The ballot question is clearly legal.

        I’d rather drive to CT, than bring casino corruption here if this is what it means.

  • nopartyaffiliation

    The legality of the ballot question is highly questionable on many fronts. Many who have had a look at the legality of the ballot question are focusing on Coakley’s argument of implied contractual rights which is strong in it’s own right. There are several others, not the least of which, is the validity of including a ban on the simulcast of greyhound races from elsewhere in the country included on the ballot question. The relation of those two issues is highly suspect and legal precedent from a 2006 SJC decision states as much.

    A ballot question must be crafted so that it offers a unified statement of public policy for the people to cast an up and down vote. Mixing a ban on simulcast greyhound racing and casino gaming is highy questionable to meet that hurdle. Grey2k is involved with Repeal The Casino Deal and have been gathering gathering signatures for the ballot petition. That group has been gathering signatures on the greyhound simulcasting wording. Ribiero and the anti-casino groups and their hired signature gatherers have been collecting signatures without even mentioning the proposed ban on simulcasting of dog races.These points alone could very well invalidate the ballot question.

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