Survey: Florida voters wary of gambling expansion without a statewide referendum

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With all the talk from Tallahassee of Las Vegas-style destination casinos possibly cropping up across Florida, voters are now wary of any politician looking to expand gambling statewide.

And they are prepared to take out their frustrations in the 2014 elections.

In a newly released survey, 73% of Floridians support a proposed constitutional amendment that gives voters the final say in legalizing gambling, preferring by a 53-43% margin to decide it with a statewide referendum, rather than a series of local votes.

Furthermore, pollsters found that constituents are considerably less likely to vote for candidates who openly seek to expand gambling or increase slot machines for pari-mutuels, a feeling that could spell trouble at the ballot box.

Although the public resistance to gambling expansion seems to be a bipartisan issue, 76% of Democrats are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Las Vegas-style gambling without first putting it up a general vote than are Republicans (70%).

The poll of 604 voters, conducted by Hill Research Consultants and commissioned by Orlando-based No Casinos, found that nearly three-quarters of Florida voters (73%) say they support the proposed Constitutional Amendment, which requires a statewide voter initiative before authorizing any form of gambling. Of that number, 47% report they feel strong about it.

Additionally, 75% of respondents believe expanded gambling will not improve the quality of life in Florida.

In fact, before lawmakers can even think about expanding gambling, voters — by a 63-28% margin — want the Legislature to fix existing regulations on gaming in Florida first.

After being bombarded by gambling rhetoric, the public has also grown suspicious of Tallahassee’s handling of the entire issue.

For example, 49% of respondents (and 61% of GOP voters) say lawmakers must resist the urge to create a new state regulatory agency to deal with gambling; they think that it will likely result in more gambling industry influence, not less. They also want the Legislature to put the brakes on granting new forms of gambling — such as the “uncoupling” gaming permits from existing pari-mutuels to allow other companies to offer slot machines and card tables.

More than half of respondents – 52% of GOP and 58% of Democratic — believe there should be a competitive bidding process for longstanding businesses, such as jai alai, dog and horse tracks, before allowing other organizations to gain access to valuable gambling licenses.

No Casinos representatives say the  results of the survey will be included in a pledge package, distributed to those candidates running in the upcoming midterm elections in November.

Pollsters took the sample of likely Florida voters from June 12-15, and the results have a margin of error of +/- 4%.

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.