Poll: Majority of New Jersey Residents Against Expanding Casinos

As New Jersey politicians debate expanding casinos outside of Atlantic City and listen to pitches for new multi-million casino projects, they may be overlooking and important fact—polls keep showing that New Jersey residents are against the idea. The latest poll has 56 percent of residents against the move.

A new poll shows that 56 percent of New Jersey residents are opposed to legislation to expand casino gaming outside of Atlantic City and allowing casinos in other parts of the state.

The poll comes as the state’s politicians debate proposals on where to locate new casinos, how many to build and how to tax them.

Many politicians are trying to fast-track legislation to allow casinos in the Meadowlands and Jersey City, among other proposals, in the hopes of getting a referendum before voters in November. Voters must approve a change to the state constitution to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City.

The poll from Farleigh Dickinson University PublicMind, however, suggests that the referendum won’t pass easily. The poll found that 56 percent of respondents opposed expanding casinos beyond Atlantic City with 37 percent in favor. The poll is in line with previous polls, which have consistently found a majority of state residents are against expanding casinos in the state.

“The public is questioning the logic behind allowing the spread of casino gambling,” said Krista Jenkins, a Fairleigh Dickinson University professor of political science and the poll’s director. “They don’t seem to be sold on the idea of saving the gaming industry in the state by allowing it to spread.”

Currently, there are two bills before the state legislature. One would allow casinos in the Meadowlands, Jersey City and other North Jersey areas. A second bill would expand that to include several central New Jersey counties.

For either bill to be on a November referendum they would have to be passed by August 3. However, state Senate President Steven Sweeney has not said whether he wants to push the bills for a 2015 referendum, or instead wait until 2016.

Since 2016 is a presidential election year, more voters will turn out in 2016 as opposed to low turnout expected in an off-year election like 2015. Delaying the move could also help several southern New Jersey legislators up for re-election. South Jersey residents are expected to be largely against casino expansion away from Atlantic City.

The poll did ask residents if they favored any of the current proposals for new casinos.

The Meadowlands Racetrack was the favorite at 69 percent. Track owner Jeff Gural and Hard Rock International have announced plans for a nearly $1 billion casino in the East Rutherford sports complex.

Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport was supported by 49 percent. Jersey City—where footwear magnate Paul Fireman wants to build a casino costing as much as $4 billion or $5 billion—was supported by 41 percent, and Newark was supported by 29 percent.

Thirty-four percent of residents said they would be more likely to visit a casino in a place other than Atlantic City within the state. Thirty-one percent aid that even if casinos were expanded to other parts of the state they would still visit Atlantic City to gamble.

Forty percent also said the availability of non-gambling attractions like restaurants, concerts and hotels is the most important factor in choosing a casino to visit.

“The key to attracting people to other venues as well as Atlantic City, seems to be the availability of non-gaming attractions,” Jenkins said. “People told us things like hotels, restaurants, and concert venues are important amenities when deciding where to go when a gambling is on their minds. Proximity to home matters, but not as much.”

Respondents were almost evenly split on whether any new casinos should have to share part of their taxes with Atlantic City, with 44 percent opposed and 42 percent in favor.

“Combined with opposition to an expansion, these results underscore the difficulty legislators are going to have if they proceed with putting a referendum on the ballot in November,” Jenkins said.

The telephone poll of 913 adults was done June 15-21, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.