Voters Divided On Sports Gambling Issue

STATE — Voters are divided over whether the Garden State should appeal a recent federal court decision halting legalized sports betting in the state, according to the most recent statewide poll of registered voters in the Garden State from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

Almost equal numbers of respondents say an appeal is warranted (37%) or that the state should back off until the federal law banning sports betting in all but a handful of states is lifted (34%). A fifth are undecided (22%). Three-quarters (76%) have heard little or nothing at all about the court decision.

In July 2012, 45 percent endorsed the state’s goal of allowing the practice, with 38 percent opposed until the federal ban was no longer in effect. The percentage drop in support for legalization seems to be the result of the higher bar the state must now overcome given the federal court’s decision.

“Given the inattention of voters on this issue, opinions either way are likely to be soft. And yet, it’s certainly notable that the gut reaction of the electorate is one of indecision and hesitancy,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of PublicMind.

Regardless of what the federal government says about legalized sports betting in the state, voter opinion appears to be remaining relatively stable. In July 2012, 58 percent supported legalized sports betting with 29 percent opposed. Today those numbers are virtually unchanged — 55 percent say they favor the practice with 28 percent opposed.

A sizable gender gap separates men and women on this issue. By an almost two-to-one margin (48 to 25%), men and women differ on support for an appeal with men significantly more likely than women to want the state to challenge the federal court ruling. Men are also far more likely to support sports betting in general, with almost two-thirds of men (62%) favoring the practice as compared with a bare majority of women (49%).

The same poll finds that recent betting experiences predispose someone to look upon legalized sports wagering favorably. Having been to a casino or slots parlor in the last 12 months or betting on sports in an office pool are experiences that distinguish people from their non-wagering friends and colleagues. Forty-eight percent of those who have been to a casino favor an appeal compared with a third of those who have not been to a casino in the recent past, and 42 percent of office pool bettors support an appeal compared with a third (33%) who haven’t wagered on sports with co-workers.

Similarly, double digits separate those who have been to a casino or bet on sports in the office recently from those who have not when it comes to legalized sports betting in the abstract. Seventy-seven percent of casino-goers want to bet on sports legally compared with 49 percent who haven’t been to a casino recently, and two thirds (67%) of office bettors support legalization compared with 49 percent who have not participated in an office pool.

“This is an issue that’s been followed closely by a variety of players. Atlantic City casinos and a few racetracks are poised to benefit from a revenue and visitation boon, but professional and collegiate sports organizations have challenged the state’s decision for fear that it will cause integrity issues with respect to the athletes and the games that they play,” said Donald Hoover, a professor in FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and a former casino executive.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 702 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from Sept. 30 through Oct. 5, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.

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