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

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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.

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. 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.

This segment aired on May 21, 2014.


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