Poll results on its side, No Casinos wants political candidates to double down on opposition to gambling

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Few issues command the amount of legislative and media attention as gambling — yet it is seldom brought up as an election issue.  This may not be true for long, however, considering results from a new poll of Florida voters that send a clear message of “it is smart to oppose gambling” to candidates.

A poll of 604 likely Florida voters conducted in late June by Hill Research Consultants shows the complexity of gambling politics in this state. Each telephone survey took about 22 minutes to complete — offering detailed snapshots of where sentiments fall.

And the overall message is resoundingly clear: politicians who choose to expand gambling without a statewide vote of the people are playing with fire.

Respondents felt overwhelmingly positive about a hypothetical constitutional amendment that would require voter control over gambling in Florida. Greater than 73 percent of those polled supported the idea that Florida voters should have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling. Only 20 percent would oppose such a measure, and of those, less than half felt strongly so.

How do these public sentiments translate to the electoral side of things?

A full 50 percent of respondents reported that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported expansion of high stakes casino gambling in the state. Only 31 percent reported being more likely to vote for such a candidate, while 17 percent said the issue would have no impact on their vote.

Here’s where the poll results get even more interesting: a full 71 percent reported that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported Las Vegas style casinos in Florida without voter referendum approval.  Just 20 percent of respondents suggested that they would be more likely to support a candidate who wished to expand gambling, sans public approval, and 7 percent said this issue wouldn’t impact their vote.

 Even for the less “Vegas style” gaming operations, respondents in this poll don’t favor politicians who support gambling. About 53 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported increased slot machines or card tables at greyhound tracks or jai alai frontons. Just 34 percent expressed that these views would be a positive for them at the voting booth.

In light of these poll results, the following sentiments seem intuitive. Only 5 percent of respondents strongly agree that more gambling in Florida would improve their quality of life, while 18 percent just kind of agree. In comparison, 75% of respondents feel that gambling would decreasequality of life for respondents and their families.

Should Florida create a new state agency to regulate gambling? Not quite, according to this poll in which 49 percent felt such an agency would be “wasteful bureaucracy, influenced by gambling lobbyists.” About 41 percent reported that a gaming agency would better regulate the industry and possibly “hold the line.” Ten percent had no opinion.

 On whether gaming decisions should be made through local elections in South Florida versus statewide elections, 43 percent favored local elections and 53 percent favored statewide referendum. Note here an underlying message: putting the decision to the people, rather than having politicians in Tallahassee decide, is key.

 “It is good public policy and smart politics to be against the expansion of gambling in Florida,” said No Casinos President John Sowinski. “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to legalize more gambling, and Florida voters want to have the final say on this issue through a statewide vote of the people.”

Importantly, it seems, attitudes about politicians and gambling are consistent across party lines. Neither Democrats nor Republicans favor legislative expansions of gambling that bypasses public approval.

No Casinos sent the poll results to all newly qualified candidates for elections across Florida. A careful read of the report would imply these candidates will either stake out an anti-gaming stance early on… or keep their mouths shut on gaming altogether.

Considering the strength of public opposition to expanded gaming in this poll, doing otherwise would seem like a dangerous gamble to make.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.