Opinion is divided in the Garden State over whether the federal government should lift its ban on sports betting versus allowing it to remain in place, according to the most recent statewide survey of New Jersey adults by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s survey research organization, PublicMind. These findings follow the introduction of legislation by two New Jersey representatives in the U.S. House that would allow New Jersey to legalize sports betting. If either one of the two bills pass, other states to may follow suit and allow legalized sports betting. In regard to gaming more generally, it appears as if the public has cooled a bit to the idea of allowing casinos to expand beyond Atlantic City, an area that has seen its share of troubles lately in the form of casino closures and job loss, to name just a few.
PublicMind finds that half of respondents say the federal ban on sports betting in all but a few states should be lifted, with 41 percent who believe the ban should remain. To some extent, these numbers suggest greater hesitancy on the part of New Jersey residents for moving ahead with legalized sports betting. In October 2013, residents were asked if they favored or opposed legalizing sports betting in the state, and 55 percent said they favored the idea with only 28 percent opposed. The addition of the federal ban to the question appears to have tempered support a bit and driven up opposition.
“Representatives Pallone and LoBiondo’s two separate pieces of legislation addressing sports betting in New Jersey are supported by many, but there remain clear pockets of opposition. Placing a bet out in the open on basketball isn’t a slam dunk in the court of public opinion,” said Donald Hoover, senior lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University's International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. “If the sentiment nationally mirrors what we’re finding in New Jersey, legalization could be a tough sell in other parts of the country, too.”
Not surprisingly, those with a recent history of going to a casino or betting in an informal office pool are the most supportive of ending the federal ban. Nearly seven-in-ten office-bettors support ending the ban, and six-in-ten casino-goers say the same.
“As we approach what is arguably the second most popular office pool _ the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, it is not surprising that many of the people participating in these pools would like the option to place wagers on individual games,” said Hoover.
Men are also considerably more likely to want sports betting in the state. Well over half (59%) of men would give the green light to legalized sports wagering, with fewer than half (42%) of women who say the same.
Among those in favor of allowing sports betting in New Jersey, the most frequent reason given is the added revenue it would mean for the state (51%). Presumably sports betting would increase visitors to the state, and help to bolster the lagging economy in Atlantic City through online sports wagering. Behind that is the belief that individuals should be able to do what they want without government intrusion (30%).
As for those opposed, fear that the practice will result in more gambling addictions and hurt an addict’s loved ones is the top respondent concern (47%). A quarter (25%) is opposed because they believe legalization will corrupt professional sports.
“Looking at the numbers, it looks like finances and social deviance are driving responses. On the one hand, sports wagering is seen as at least part of the solution to the state’s lagging economy. But you can’t ignore the worries of those who see it as opening the door to personal heartache and financial ruin,” said Hoover.
Atlantic City: Status quo or grow?
As for Atlantic City and its troubles of late, fewer today endorse the idea of allowing the expansion of gaming beyond AC as compared with July 2014. Right now, 36 percent favor casino gambling in other areas of the state, six percentage points less than last summer (42%). As with legalized sports betting, office pool participants and casino-goers offer the most enthusiasm for gaming’s expansion, although even among these respondents support fails to attract a majority.
“The negative news about Atlantic City may play a role in swaying public opinion in New Jersey and elsewhere about the effects of expanded gaming on existing offerings,” continued Hoover.
Finally, when it comes to Atlantic City’s financial troubles, New Jersey residents are closely following the news of casino closings and other economic. More than three-quarters (77%) say they’ve heard a lot or some about the historic gaming community and its recent problems, with almost half who have heard a lot (45%).
As for what or who residents believe is responsible for AC’s recent demise, opinion is divided about equally between those who believe competition from other area casinos (31%) and the overall economy (29%) are to blame. Mismanagement — either political or within the tourism industry — is seen by relatively few as a source of blame.
“It doesn’t look like the public believes there’s much that can be done to stem the tide on AC’s troubles. Casinos in Pennsylvania and New York are beyond the control of New Jersey legislators, and belt tightening is inevitable during an economic downturn,” said Hoover. “Policymakers may have a difficult time selling taxpayers a package of reforms for the troubled community given the perception that larger forces are driving people away from Atlantic City.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 901 adults in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from February 23 through March 1. The margin of error is +/- 3.3 percentage points.
Methodology, questions, and tables on the web at: http://publicmind.fdu.edu