Weekly poll

Poll shows Mass. voters still support casinos

An artist rendering shows part of a proposed casino complex in Springfield.
An artist rendering shows part of a proposed casino complex in Springfield.

Massachusetts voters still support Las Vegas-style gaming in the state, even as they’ve soured on the commission charged with selecting casino operators, according to a new Boston Globe poll.

Fifty-two percent of respondents say they would vote to keep the state’s casino law in place if the question lands on the ballot this fall, while just 41 percent would repeal it.

The support comes despite significant concerns about the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has overseen a topsy-turvy process for siting three casinos and a slot parlor.


Among voters paying close attention to the casino rollout, 52 percent say they don’t have confidence in the panel, compared with 45 percent who do.

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The poll also suggests the recent Democratic state convention, which narrowed the field of gubernatorial candidates from five to three, did little to shift the overall dynamic of the race.

Attorney General Martha Coakley maintains a large lead over Treasurer Steve Grossman, who won the party’s official endorsement at the convention, and former Obama administration health care official Don Berwick.

The initial post-convention polling “doesn’t show any significant bounce for the Grossman or Berwick campaigns,” said John Della Volpe, chief executive for SocialSphere Inc., which conducted the survey.

The casino process has been mired in controversy for months now. Several towns rejected casino proposals. And Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby recused himself from the panel’s biggest decision — selecting a Greater Boston casino operator — amid questions about his impartiality.


There’s been a cameo by Russian mobsters and a starring role for a convicted felon with a four-page Massachusetts rap sheet.

Della Volpe, who also conducts polls for the state Lottery, said the broad swirl of controversy — much of it beyond the control of the commission — probably dragged down confidence in the panel. “I don’t think it’s fair to put 100 percent of that on government,” he said. “It’s a cauldron of conflict.”

Poll respondent Joel Peterson, 70, a clinical social worker from West Roxbury, said he has a “mixed” view of the commission’s performance. But, he added, “I don’t see anything egregious at this point.”

And his misgivings about the panel, Peterson said, haven’t shaken his support for casinos. “To be completely mercenary about it, it would be a tax benefit for the state — and for its communities,” he said.

Casino opponents want to get a repeal of the 2011 casino law on the November ballot. Coakley, the attorney general, ruled the proposed ballot question unconstitutional last year. But advocates appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, which is expected to issue a decision by early July.


The Globe poll of 630 likely voters also delved into the Bay State’s gambling habits.

The poll suggests there will be no significant surge of new gamblers.

Almost three in 10 said they placed a bet at a casino in the past two years — many of them, no doubt, at gambling halls in neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Those who cross state lines to gamble now may make more frequent visits to the roulette and craps tables when Massachusetts casinos open. But the poll suggests there will be no significant surge of new gamblers.

Thirty-three percent of poll respondents said they would be likely to visit a Massachusetts casino within one year of its opening — just a slight uptick from the 29 percent who placed a bet at a casino in the last two years.

“I don’t think there is an overwhelming thirst for new gambling in Massachusetts,” said Della Volpe, the pollster. “We’re talking about a cannibalization . . . of other properties” such as the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and the Newport Grand slot parlor in Rhode Island.

The survey found that, of those who said they had placed a bet in a casino in the past two years, 48 percent prefer slot machines; 40 percent table games like blackjack, craps, or roulette; 5 percent poker; and 2 percent video poker.

The poll suggests a generational divide, with younger voters reared on fantasy sports and other analytical pursuits more likely to prefer table games and older voters favoring slot machines.

The survey also found that Massachusetts voters who frequent casinos come with thick wallets. The mean poll respondent said he was willing to spend up to $245 in a casino visit. Men, younger voters, and those making less than $50,000 per year were willing to wager the most.

The poll finding plays into arguments from gambling opponents who say casino gaming would amount to a tax on the poor.

Twenty percent of poll respondents said they would prefer a Boston-area casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere, while 7 percent support the Everett proposal from Wynn resorts. Thirty-nine percent said they don’t have a preference, while 29 percent said they don’t approve of gaming in the area.

The survey was conducted in two waves, from June 8 to 10 and June 15 to 17, and has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points for most questions.

The question on the Democratic gubernatorial primary, asked of 198 likely Democratic primary voters, came during the second wave — a three-day period immediately following the party’s state convention. The margin of error for that question is nearly 7 percentage points.

Fifty-two percent favored Coakley, 19 percent backed Grossman, and 8 percent supported Berwick.

The Boston Globe’s rolling poll will add more likely Democratic primary voters to the pool this weekend — boosting the sample size and shrinking the margin of error.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.

Clarification: This story failed to disclose that pollster John Della Volpe also conducts polls for the Massachusetts State Lottery.