Hedging bets on casinos and the governor's race

Voters in Massachusetts are skeptical of the process by which casinos are being awarded, and would like an opportunity to weigh in at the ballot box. That was one of the highlights of the poll we conducted for WBUR and released last week. The desire to weigh in is also tied to opposition to casinos, with casino detractors seeing the ballot box as another way to get a crack at the casino law before any shovels are in the ground.

Despite a spate of negative stories about the casino licensing process and the state's commission, slightly more voters approve of casinos now than when we last asked the question back in March. But even more voters (52 percent) want to be able to vote on repealing the state's casino law on the ballot in November, including many who support the law itself. And a similar number lack confidence in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the body charged with overseeing the licensing process.

Casino supporters, not opponents, are paying the most attention.

One might expect, given the recent  negative press about the licensing process, that voters who are paying close attention would be less likely to approve of casinos and have confidence in the Gaming Commission (Figure 1). It turns out the opposite is true, with those paying the closest attention also expressing more support for casinos and more confidence in the Gaming Commission. On the other side, those voters only casually absorbing casino news appear to be the ones least comfortable with the licensing process.


Of course, those paying least attention are also less likely to have formed an opinion on these questions, but the margin of support among those who have formed an opinion confirms the trend. Voters who are following the casino licensing process very closely approve of casinos by 20 points, while those who are not paying attention at all disapprove of casinos by 6 points. In short, those who disapprove of casinos are less engaged right now, meaning mobilizing casino opponents may prove a greater challenge for pro-repeal forces if the measure is allowed on the ballot.

The same pattern holds for confidence in the gaming commission: the voters paying the most attention are split on confidence in the gaming commission (45 confident / 48 not confident), while those not tuning in lack confidence the commission by a 20-point margin (30/50).

Partisan split on gaming commission, casinos.

Like most issues in today's political environment, the casino licensing process has taken on a partisan tinge, perhaps because the commission has been a product of Democratic administration. Among supporters of Republican candidate Charlie Baker, just 29 percent express confidence in the Commission, compared to 47 percent of Martha Coakley's supporters. As such, the process could play a role in the gubernatorial election, if problems with the licensing process is used by Republicans as evidence of Democrats' mismanagement of state government. This partisan divide doesn't hold when it comes to putting repeal on the ballot, however. There, equal numbers of Democrats (55 percent) and Republicans (56 percent) want casino repeal on the ballot, while support lags slightly among independents (49 percent).

Confidence in MGC related to other views on casinos.

A better indicator than partisanship of whether voters want repeal on the ballot is their level of confidence in the Gaming Commission (Figure 2). The less confidence voters have in the Commission, the more likely they are to support putting the repeal on the ballot, in essence taking control of the process themselves. Similarly, as confidence in the Commission declines, so does approval for casinos in the state in general.


Wanting repeal on the ballot is clearly tied to disapproval of casinos -- 72 percent of those who disapprove of casinos want the measure on the ballot. But more voters want to see repeal on the ballot than actually disapprove of casinos. In fact, 37 percent of those who approve of casinos in the state also want the measure on the ballot. So while anti-casino sentiment is perhaps the major driver behind the ballot measure, there is also a slice of the electorate who simply want the opportunity to vote.