Mass. Casinos Have Majority Support, WBUR Poll Finds

A week after the state's highest court cleared the way for a repeal of the casino law to go on the November ballot, a new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs) suggests that gambling proponents would begin such a highly anticipated voter initiative with clear popular support.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they approve of locating casinos in Massachusetts, while 38 percent said they disapprove. Six percent said they don't know, or refused to answer.

The 18-percentage-point margin of support for casinos is larger than in recent WBUR surveys. In March, 46 percent of respondents said they back casinos, to 43 percent opposed. And then in May, the margin supporting casinos was 10 points — 49 percent to 39 percent.

"Polls are noisy, and we'll know as more polls come out whether or not the [Supreme Judicial Court] decision was the high water mark, or is this the beginning of a new trend?" said pollster Steve Koczela, whose MassINC Polling Group conducts surveys for WBUR.

The majority backing of casinos is despite "some pretty significant headwinds," Koczela added in an email.

Fifty-one percent of poll respondents said they lack confidence in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the panel charged with handing out gambling licenses. And just 29 percent of those surveyed said news they've seen about the casino licensing process has been positive.

But still, a plurality of poll respondents said casinos are a net positive. Forty-nine percent hew closer to the view that casinos provide jobs and needed revenue, while 40 percent said casinos are a net negative, driving out existing businesses and bringing social ills like crime and gambling addiction.

The survey also asked respondents about their own casino visits. About half had visited one in the last three years. Of those who had been to a casino within three years, 61 percent visited one in Connecticut — home to the massive establishments Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Recouping revenue Massachusetts gamblers spend in out-of-state casinos was one of the arguments made by proponents of the casino law before it was enacted in 2011.

Governor's Race

In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Martha Coakley maintains her front-runner position in the WBUR poll. Of the Democratic candidates, the attorney general performs the strongest against Republican front-runner Charlie Baker, topping him 41 percent to 28 percent in a hypothetical matchup that also includes the race's independent candidates. Baker outpolls the other Democrats, Steve Grossman and Donald Berwick, in similar hypothetical matchups. All three Democrats top the other GOP candidate, Mark Fisher.

The casino issue — at least at this point — seems to have little impact on the governor's race. Eighteen percent of respondents said support for casinos would make them more likely to vote for a particular candidate, while 22 percent said such support would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. Most of those surveyed (58 percent) said support for casinos would make no difference when casting their gubernatorial vote.

Said Koczela, the MassINC pollster:

"As voters learn more about the candidates' positions it wouldn't surprise me if there does start to be more of a relationship between how you feel about casinos and who you say you're going to support for governor, but that relationship's not showing up very strongly just yet."

The telephone survey of 502 likely voters was conducted June 27-29.

This story was updated with some reporting from WBUR's Bruce Gellerman's radio feature.

- Here are the poll's topline results (via Scribd):

- Here are the poll's crosstabs (via Scribd):

This article was originally published on July 02, 2014.

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Benjamin Swasey Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.



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