Metro

Casino backers spending heavily on TV ads

Pro-casino television ads by an industry -backed political group have run nearly 3,000 times on local broadcast stations, while underfunded gambling opponents have so far been unable to run even one television ad defending casino repeal, Question 3.

The one-sided ad war appears to correlate with a rise in public sentiment against repeal of the state casino law, according to Globe polls, and the casinos are not letting up: Three gambling companies with a stake in Massachusetts injected $4.5 million more into the campaign this month.

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The casino-backed Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs has spent $6.2 million this year defending the casino law, about 15 times what opponents spent, according to campaign finance reports updated Monday.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters oppose casino repeal, according to a new Globe poll, while 39 percent favor repeal. The poll of 400 likely voters was conducted Oct. 19-21. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.

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“They have opened that race up in the last couple weeks. It shows the effect that resources can have in persuading people on a particular issue, especially a complicated ballot question,” said Globe pollster John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., referring to the casino companies.

The 14-point spread is up from the roughly 9 or 10 point advantage casino supporters enjoyed in a number of Globe polls in the summer.

The difference in total spending between the two sides is even greater in the campaign over Question 2, a proposed expansion of the bottle bill. A political group backed by beverage companies and retailers has run 1,340 “no on 2” television ads this campaign season, through Tuesday, at an estimated cost of more than $2.5 million, according to an analysis done for the Globe by Kantar Media. The No on Question 2 group has spent $8.2 million this year against bottle bill expansion; supporters have spent about $761,000 in 2014.

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Public sentiment turned hard against the expanded bottle bill after the ads began to run this fall. Sixty-three percent of likely voters oppose expanding the bottle bill, according to the new Globe poll. Just 29 percent said they would support Question 2, which would extend the state’s nickel deposit to bottled water, sports drinks, and other non-carbonated beverages.

The American Beverage Association helped keep the anti-bottle-bill campaign in the black with a $693,000 contribution in the most recent campaign filing period, covering Oct. 2 to Oct. 15, according to reports filed with the state. Demoulas Super Markets, Inc. contributed $125,000.

In the campaign against Question 3, MGM Resorts, which has been promised the Western Massachusetts resort license for a Springfield resort casino, contributed $2.5 million to the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs in the last campaign filing period. Penn National Gaming, which is building the state’s sole slot parlor in Plainville, added $1 million. Wynn Resorts, which in September won the Greater Boston license for a project in Everett, contributed $1 million.

The pro-casino coalition has produced five television ads, including one in Spanish. The ads focus primarily on creating jobs, an issue that has tested well in focus groups, according to people familiar with the focus studies.

The coalition released one ad about recapturing money Massachusetts residents currently spend at out-of-state casinos, an arguments that dates back to the legislative debate leading up to the passage of the 2011 state casino law. The coalition also released one ad on plans by Wynn Resorts to clean up pollution at the company’s proposed casino site, another issue that tested well with focus groups.

The coalition’s broadcast ads had run 2,977 times through Tuesday in the Boston and Springfield markets since the first ad appeared Sept. 23, Kantar Media said. The estimated cost of the ad campaign is $3.5 million.

Casino opponents raised $125,000 in the most recent reporting period, most of it coming from a $100,000 contribution from Alan Lewis, chief executive of Grand Circle Travel. Lewis did not return a message left with his office.

‘It shows the effect that resources can have in persuading people on a particular issue, especially a complicated ballot question.’

John Della Volpe, Globe pollster 
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Opponents note that they were wildly outspent in a number of local casino referendum in 2013, yet managed to defeat casino proposals in East Boston, West Springfield, Palmer, and Milford.

“It’s no news that the big bosses of the corrupt casino culture are writing checks to prop up their bad investment,” said David Guarino, a spokesman for the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign. “We’re confident voters will see through the haze of glossy ads and vote yes to stop this mess.”

He would not directly address on Tuesday whether the repeal group will buy television time. “We certainly plan to communicate our core message about the casino mess right through Election Day in any forum we can — house-to-house, door-to-door, and in the media,” Guarino said by e-mail.

Boston University journalism professor Fred Bayles, who studies referendums, said the success of casino opponents in municipal referendum may not extend to a statewide campaign, because most voters don’t live near the three casino sites. “For many people, if it isn’t in their backyard they don’t care,” Bayles said.

Justine Griffin, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said the pro-casino campaign is more extensive than just television advertising, and includes phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and appearances at debates. “We believe the more people learn, the more support is likely to grow, and we plan to continue our efforts over the next two weeks,” she said.

Opponents of Question 1, which seeks to undo a law linking the state gas tax to inflation, ran their first television ad Monday, in the Springfield market, according to Kantar Media.

There have been no broadcast television ads yet on Question 4, according to Kantar. The measure would entitle workers to earn and use sick time under certain conditions.

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