Survey shows Massachusetts residents want casinos

With the Massachusetts Senate scheduled to begin debate today on a bill authorizing three resort casinos and a slots parlor, survey results released Sunday show 56 percent of the state's residents support the measure.

The survey, conducted Sept. 16-18 by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, asked 552 Bay Staters the following question: "Do you support or oppose the plan proposed by the governor and legislative leaders to authorize destination resort casinos in southeastern Massachusetts, western Massachusetts and greater Boston, and to allow a small slot parlor at a location to be determined through competitive bidding?"

Thirty-one percent of the respondents oppose the plan and 13 percent are undecided, the survey results show. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

"It is clear from this survey and previous ones conducted by the (Center for Policy Analysis), as well as polls conducted by other academic institutes and media outlets during the past several years, that the jury is in on expanded gaming: Massachusetts residents want it; they support it; and they believe it provides significant fiscal and economic benefits to the Commonwealth," Clyde Barrow, the center's director and poll supervisor, said in a statement accompanying the release of the survey results.

A March 2010 poll by the center found that 53 percent of Massachusetts residents supported an earlier proposal by Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to authorize two resort casinos and a limited number of slot machines at the state's racetracks. Twenty-five percent were opposed and 22 percent were undecided. In April 2009, a center poll found that 57 percent of state residents supported the authorization of two or more resort casinos, 30 percent were opposed, and 13 percent were undecided.

Surveys conducted in 2009 by the University of New Hampshire and by Suffolk University obtained similar results.

"No matter how you ask the question, the public's answer is always the same and its support for expanded gaming is unwavering," Barrow said.

He also said the public believes the current expanded gaming proposal, crafted by Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders, contains rigorous regulatory, law enforcement and social mitigation measures that will enhance the fiscal and economic benefits of expanded gaming, while minimizing any perceived social impacts.

In the latest poll, nearly three quarters of respondents agree or strongly agree that the bill before the Senate will generate tax revenue for the state and create new jobs for Massachusetts residents. More than 60 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that three casinos and a slot parlor will recapture gambling revenues from adjacent states, increase tourism in the state and stimulate local economic development.

Increased gambling addiction in the state was the only negative social impact that a majority of respondents agree or strongly agree would occur as a result of expanded gaming in Massachusetts.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which operates Mohegan Sun, the Mohegan Tribe's Uncasville casino, intends to pursue a license for a commercial casino in the western Massachusetts town of Palmer if and when the expanded-gambling bill becomes law. The advent of casinos in Massachusetts would likely have a significant impact on business at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut as well as at Rhode Island's two racetrack casinos, Twin River in Lincoln and Newport Grand in Newport.

The latest poll was released as part of the New England Gaming Research Project, which is funded entirely by the School of Education, Public Policy, and Civic Engagement at UMass Dartmouth.

Lawmakers will consider a total of 186 proposed amendments to the expanded-gambling bill, including provisions to require a wider referendum to approve a casino's location or to stagger casino licenses to one a year.

Casino proponents say gambling halls will create 15,000 jobs and bring $300 million to $600 million in tax revenue to the state every year. Critics have questioned the strength of the economic boost casinos are said to bring, and say social and economic costs, such as gambling addiction, outweigh any potential benefits.

The House overwhelmingly approved a similar bill earlier this month.

An Associated Press report was included in this story.

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