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Casino support in Massachusetts drops, new poll suggests

As the Massachusetts Gaming Commission determines which Eastern Massachusetts community will receive the region’s sole casino resort license, public support for casinos in Massachusetts has dropped 7 percent since January.

Community members and activists have taken part in an ongoing battle to put a question on November’s general election ballot to repeal the state law allowing for a total of three casino resort licenses in the Commonwealth. The poll, published by WBUR Wednesday and conducted by MassInc Polling Group, asked the question to 500 likely voters. Forty-six percent of the participants voted in support of casinos, and 43 percent opposed.

“It’s hard to say exactly why folks’ opinion is changing,” said Richard Parr, research director at MassInc Polling Group. “But it is exciting to note that it’s part of a pattern that we’re starting to see now in the past few polls that we’ve done and that other groups have done. You see this drop-off in support.”

While these numbers reflect public opinion statewide, the outcomes of casino voting in individual towns could be drastically different, Parr said. Voters in Everett and Revere, the two towns vying for the Eastern Massachusetts casino resort license, voted in support of a casino in their community. The MGC plans to issue the license in June.

“If another town were to have a vote on whether or not to have a casino, this poll might indicate that it might be a harder sell, but I think that those town-by-town votes sometimes have a different dynamic than what’s going on statewide,” he said.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has recently shown interest in gaining host community status, rather than surrounding community status, to the two Eastern Massachusetts casino resort proposals. His request for a hearing was granted by the MGC Thursday.

Host community status is typically determined between the community and the applicant. Walsh’s request is the first time a community has petitioned the MGC for host status, said Elaine Driscoll, MGC director of communications.

“The adjudicatory hearing is anticipated to take place in approximately two weeks,” she said in an email. “A decision will be reached after the commission feels it has heard and explored thoroughly all of the issues presented.”

The additional hearings required to grant host community status may cause a delay in issuing the Eastern Massachusetts casino resort license, but the extent of the delay cannot yet be determined, she said.

“It is too difficult to say at this point what type of delay this will cause for the eastern [Massachusetts] license because at this point [it] depends on too many unknown variables,” she said.

Parr said Wednesday’s poll and Walsh’s actions look at two fundamentally different issues when evaluating casino support in the Commonwealth. The poll seeks to answer whether or not residents want casinos in their state, while Walsh is looking to understand the effects of a casino to its surrounding communities once it is built.

“What the mayor is doing makes sense,” he said. “… He’s looking out for the interests of the city by trying to get the host community status. I don’t know what the public would think about that, but I would imagine that they would think that if we’re going to have casinos, we should have as much benefit for the community as possible.”

Several residents said casinos could help the state economically, but there are also some downfalls to the gaming industry.

Jackie Czel, 43, of Boston, said casinos could help the job and housing industries in Massachusetts.

“There would be an extra tax base and revenue that doesn’t have to be picked up by the average citizen or small business,” she said. “[From casino revenue], there can be better housing for the people working there and opportunities for small businesses like restaurants, hair salons or dry cleaners.”

Biola Omoto, 22, of Boston, said casinos attract violence, and there is no reason to support an establishment that could create an increase in crime in Massachusetts.

“It’s better if the casinos are not here,” she said. “I’ve never been to one, but what I see in movies is the gang violence they bring. Someone might expect to win big and gets violent when he [or she] doesn’t.”

Delia McDonough, 60, of Jamaica Plain, said Walsh should follow through with his petition to be a host community because the casinos could bring economic growth to Boston, but they could also bring crowds to the area that Walsh needs to have the power to control.

“The only bad thing is the traffic and crowds [casinos] bring,” she said. “Casinos would add more jobs and people would spend more. It’s a good balance.”

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