Western New England University poll finds majority of residents support casinos, but not in their backyard

Last modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Three out of five adults in Massachusetts say they support having casinos in the commonwealth, but most also don’t want them in their city or town, according to a new survey by the Western New England University Polling Institute.

While 61 percent of adults said they support casinos in the state, 55 percent said they would oppose them in their community, compared to 42 percent who said they would support them in their city or town. Three percent of respondents were undecided or declined to answer the question.

The survey results are similar to casino data the WNEU Polling Institute collected in 2009 and 2010 surveys, when 56 and 58 percent backed casinos in Massachusetts while 53 and 57 percent were opposed to having them in their community.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the polling institute and a professor of political science at WNEU, said the consistency of the latest survey results with the earlier ones is striking given the major policy developments with casino gaming in Massachusetts in recent years.

“You’d think the needle would move a little bit,” he said.

The statewide telephone survey was conducted between Nov. 5-11 and reached 517 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Three casino resort developers have been vying for the sole gaming license the state Gaming Commission is expected to grant in western Massachusetts next year, though two proposals — Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino New England in West Springfield — were nixed by voters in referendums in recent months. If a host community does not have a positive referendum vote, a casino project cannot move forward under the state’s 2011 gaming law.

Only MGM Resorts International’s proposal to build an $800 million casino resort complex in downtown Springfield remains in the running for a license, though a Nov. 26 recount is scheduled for the Mohegan Sun proposal, which was defeated by 93 votes earlier this month.

Vercellotti said the latest survey results could prove insightful for a group of casino opponents who are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the 2011 state gaming law. The rejection of casinos in a number of cities and towns this year has given the group some hope that the tide may be turning against casinos, though the WNEU poll indicates otherwise.

“I think they have a lot of work ahead of them to make their case,” Vercellotti said. “It’s useful to know what you’re up against.”

He added that others, including casino developers and state gaming officials, should also take note of the results.

“When it comes to the community level, it can be a tough sell,” Vercellotti said. “They (casino developers) can’t take for granted that the perceived economic benefits are going to carry the day.”

The poll also showed that among registered voters, those identifying themselves as Democrats and independents were more likely to support casinos than Republicans, as were men compared to women. In addition, 78 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 supported casinos compared to 46 percent of adults 65 and older.

The survey found that support for a casino in one’s community varied by age, gender education and income.

Women, people age 65 and older, college graduates and those with annual household incomes of at least $100,000 all were more opposed to having a casino in their community compared to men, younger people, those with a high school diploma or less, and those who make $35,000 or less.

“It seems to me that the economic argument was hitting home with these folks,” said Vercellotti said of the younger respondents and those with less education and income.

In another facet of the survey, opinions varied as to the impacts a casino would have in a community with 39 percent saying it would reduce the quality of life, 21 percent saying it would improve it and 31 percent saying casinos would not make a difference.

Vercellotti said the results show residents are pretty evenly divided over the statewide impact of casinos, though they are more likely to predict a negative rather than positive impact in a host community.

“That seems consistent with the idea that people see casinos being good for the state, but not necessarily good for their own communities,” he said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


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