Casinos given poor grade in new poll results

While most Americans have a favorable impression of the nation's best-known gambling meccas, a majority of those with an opinion on the subject think casinos hurt local communities, according to a new national survey.

Findings being released today by PublicMind, Fairleigh Dickinson University's research center, also show that two out of three Americans oppose the legalization of Internet gambling while 53 percent oppose the legalization of sports betting.

Asked what destination they thought of first in regard to casinos and gambling, 54 percent of those surveyed said Las Vegas, followed by Atlantic City (7 percent) and Reno, Nev., and Foxwoods Resort Casino (2 percent each). Mohegan Sun and several other destinations were each named by about 1 percent of the poll participants.

Forty-six percent said casinos have a negative impact on the local community while 38 percent said casinos have a positive local effect. Those who indicated they had visited a casino in the previous 12 months split evenly on the question. Among those who hadn't visited a casino in the last year, 61 percent said casinos have a negative effect.

The poll of 1,001 randomly selected adults was conducted by telephone from Jan. 22 through Feb. 4. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

"They tell me that when it comes to casinos, there are two conversations going on," Peter Woolley, PublicMind's poll director, said Wednesday of the results. "One is among those who, like state governments, want to bring in more gambling. But the other is among people who would be impacted by the introduction of casinos. I was surprised that so many said they have a negative effect."

Policymakers should find such public-opinion data valuable, said Marvin Steinberg, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling. It's the kind of information, he said, that would be useful to Connecticut officials who are now considering having the state lottery introduce keno at bars, restaurants and other locations.

"Do people want that kind of thing? Do we know what they think?" Steinberg said. "I'm concerned that citizen input is not even considered."

Legislatures in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are also considering expanding gambling.

Sixty-five percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Las Vegas compared to 22 percent who had an unfavorable opinion. In the case of Atlantic City, 46 percent had a favorable opinion versus 23 percent unfavorable.

The Connecticut casinos were considered favorably by 20 percent and unfavorably by 16 percent. Sixty-four percent had no opinion of them.

"I was surprised that Atlantic City did as well as it did," Woolley said. "And I was surprised that Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun didn't come up more often. They advertise a great deal, especially in the Northeast, and they're a direct competitor of Atlantic City. I would have thought they'd be more on the tip of everybody's tongue."

Mitchell Etess, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, said it was no surprise that a national survey would find Las Vegas and Atlantic City rate highest in the public's awareness of gambling destinations.

"Both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are very, very huge destinations but we're primarily a regional destination," he said. "If you go to Missouri, they're not going to know Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. If you did a survey regionally of the Northeast, particularly New York, Boston, Connecticut, Rhode Island, we'd have very high recognition."

Etess said the results of a regional survey of attitudes also might differ from those of the PublicMind poll.

"Over time and in some places, gaming has overcome a stigma; it's increased in acceptance," he said. "But it's still in transition in many places. People say Atlantic City is struggling, but what would Atlantic City and the surrounding area look like without casinos? What would southeastern Connecticut look like without 20,000 people working at the casinos?"

Woolley said he was somewhat relieved by the poll's finding that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the legalization of Internet gambling.

"That would be like putting a liquor store in everybody's living room," he said.

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said legalized sports betting is a bad idea because it promotes too much gambling and can corrupt sports, while 39 percent said it should be allowed and taxed.

Currently, sports betting is only allowed in the four states that permitted it when Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 - Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. New Jersey interests have filed suit in federal court seeking to overturn the ban.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

OPINIONS OF AREA CASINOS

Favorable: 20%

Unfavorable: 16%

No opinion: 64%

SOURCE: PublicMind national poll, Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey

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