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Despite mayoral campaign debate, Boston still split on casino

AERIAL - BOSTON ,MA 04/ 18/ 2012 : CASINO......The owners and management of Suffolk Downs will discuss their plans for a resort development. ( David L Ryan / Globe Staff Photo ) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 06Suffolk

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2012

Forty-nine percent of Bostonians favor building a resort-style casino at Suffolk Downs, according to a Boston Globe poll.

About half of Boston residents support the proposed $1 billion Suffolk Downs casino, according to a Boston Globe poll, indicating that months of debate during the mayoral campaign have done little to change public opinion.

Forty-nine percent of Bostonians favor the project, including 25 percent who say they are strongly in favor. The project does slightly better among likely voters in the Nov. 5 election, with 53 percent in favor.

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The survey also found 37 percent are against the casino, with 27 percent describing their opposition as strong. If the issue were put to a citywide vote — currently only East Boston residents are expected to vote — this could represent a formidable block of opposition on an emotional issue in which gambling opponents historically have been more likely to show up at the polls, specialists say.

The results track closely to a Globe poll in March, which showed 44 percent in favor and 37 percent against.

The new poll of 704 Boston adults, including 411 likely voters, was conducted Sept. 5-12 for the Globe by the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire. The margin of error is 3.7 percent for the larger sample and 4.8 percent for likely voters.

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The survey shows that men are far more supportive of a gambling palace at the racetrack. Men back the project 57 percent to 31, but women narrowly oppose it, 43 percent to 42, including 31 percent who say they are strongly opposed.

Under the 2011 state casino law, large cities such as Boston have the option of confining the mandatory referendum vote on the proposal to the ward in which the casino would be located. Or Boston officials could choose to expand the vote citywide, as Springfield did with a July vote on an MGM proposal, which voters approved.

Forty-nine percent of Bostonians favor the project, including 25 percent who say they are strongly in favor.

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Bostonians overwhelmingly want the chance to vote on the casino, with 67 percent in favor of a citywide vote.

Just 27 percent believe the vote should be limited to only East Boston residents.

Those numbers are virtually unchanged from March, when 66 percent of Boston adults favored a citywide vote and 27 percent believed East Boston should make the decision.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has called for an exclusive East Boston vote, arguing that the neighborhood most likely to feel the effects of a casino should alone decide whether the project moves forward.

No casino project can win a license unless the residents of the host community support the project at a referendum.

Boston and Revere are expected to hold separate casino referendums on Nov. 5, the same day as the Boston municipal election.

Along with the MGM proposal in Springfield, casino projects in Raynham, Plainville, and Everett have already won voter approval.

A Hard Rock casino proposal was defeated at referendum in West Springfield.

Suffolk Downs, with partner Caesars Entertainment, is competing for the single resort casino license available for Greater Boston. The other competitors are Wynn Resorts and a Foxwoods Resort Casino project in Milford. Wynn has already won a referendum in Everett. Milford votes Nov. 19.

The state gambling commission expects to choose a winner in early 2014.

Among people who say they will definitely vote on Nov. 5, a Suffolk Downs casino is favored by 10 points, 48 percent to 38 percent, according to the survey.

African-Americans back the casino 58 percent to 29. Whites support the project 48-39; Hispanics, 48-42.

The poll does not include a statistically significant breakdown for just East Boston voters, though the combined neighborhoods of Charlestown and East Boston favor the casino 44 percent to 36, including 30 percent who are strongly opposed.

The most anti-casino candidate in the Boston mayoral election, Bill Walczak, is polling at about 4 percent citywide. Yet in East Boston and Charlestown he stands out with 19 percent support in the 12-candidate race.

“It does show there is some political traction for opposition in the neighborhood,” said Andrew E. Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark
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