Monmouth Poll: Voters Divided on North Jersey Casinos

 (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

New Jersey voters are split right down the middle on whether to allow casino gambling in the northern part of the state.  The latest Monmouth University Poll also finds that most state residents continue to feel that state government should stay out of Atlantic City while the public is divided on whether a potential state takeover would help or hurt city residents.

New Jersey voters will be faced with a question on November’s ballot that would amend the state constitution to allow for two new casinos to be built in the northern part of the state.  These casinos would be the first in the state to be located outside of Atlantic City.  The poll finds that registered voters are evenly divided on what they will do – 48% say they would vote for this proposed change and 48% say they would vote against it.  Democrats tend to be in favor (53% for and 42% against), while the opposite is true for Republicans (44% for and 51% against) and independents (45% for and 52% against).

There is also a regional divide in how the Garden State intends to vote on this measure.  North Jersey voters approve of casino expansion by a 52% to 43% margin, while voters elsewhere are opposed – 45% to 52% in Central Jersey and 42% to 54% in South Jersey.  In North Jersey, Republicans (49% for and 51% against) and independents (48% for and 47% against) are split, but they are clearly opposed in Central/South Jersey – 41% for and 51% against among Republicans and 42% for and 56% against among independents in the northern part of the state.  Democrats exhibit the widest regional variation in how they will vote.  North Jersey Democrats broadly support casino expansion (59% for and 34% against) while Central/South Jersey Democrats narrowly oppose it (47% for and 51% against).

“The fate of the casino expansion measure is anyone’s guess,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.  “The public does not express overwhelming confidence that adding North Jersey casinos will be an economic boon and there is widespread concern that this would hurt an already precarious Atlantic City.”

The poll found that 6-in-10 residents (59%) believe that casino expansion will hurt Atlantic City.  Only 5% think that it will help Atlantic City and 33% feel it will not have a significant impact either way.  Among voters who support the ballot question, 49% say expansion will hurt Atlantic City, 7% say it will help, and 43% say it will have no impact.  Among those who oppose the amendment, 74% say casino expansion will hurt Atlantic City, 2% say it will help, and 21% say it will have no impact.

Most state residents expect that expanding casino gambling to the northern part of the state will bring some economic benefits to the state overall.  However, only 12% say it will help the state’s economy a great deal while 42% say it will help just somewhat.  On the other hand, more than 4-in-10 residents say that casino expansion would boost New Jersey’s economy either not much (21%) or not at all (22%).  Among voters who support the ballot question, 20% say expansion will help the state’s economy a great deal and 60% say it will help somewhat.  Among opponents, just 4% say expansion will help the state’s economy a great deal and 23% say it will help somewhat.  Otherwise, there is little partisan or regional variation in opinion on the potential economic impact of casino expansion.

“It doesn’t help proponents of casino expansion that this question is being posed at a time when public opinion on the benefits of casino gambling is less positive than it has been in recent years,” said Murray.

Currently, 54% of New Jersey residents say that casino gambling has been good for the state while 30% say it has been bad for the state.  While positive opinion is in the majority, back in 1999 nearly 3-in-4 state residents (72%) said that gambling had been good for New Jersey.  As recently as three years ago, 64% felt this way.  In fact, the current level of positive opinion on the impact of casino gambling is even lower than it was when the first Atlantic City casinos had just opened.  Back in 1980, 58% of state residents said gambling was good for the state.

The Monmouth University Poll also examined public opinion on the situation in Atlantic City itself.  Currently, New Jersey residents are divided on whether nearly 40 years of casino gambling has had a positive impact on the resort town – 38% say A.C. is actually worse off today than it would have been if gambling had never been allowed compared to 31% who say that A.C. is better off than it would have been without casinos.  Another 24% feel that casino gambling has had no impact.  New Jerseyans were more optimistic just a few years ago.  In 2013, 46% said gambling had improved Atlantic City’s fortunes and just 18% said it had made things there worse.

Despite the downturn in Atlantic City’s prospects, a majority of state residents (51%) disagree that state government should get involved in improving the city’s economy, compared with 42% who agree with having the state involved.  These results are basically unchanged from three years ago (52% disagree and 42% agree).  Only 1-in-5 have heard a lot (19%) about the proposal by the state legislature and governor – signed into law last week – that would allow for a state takeover if Atlantic City does not get its finances in order.  Another 38% have heard a little about this, while just under half (44%) have not heard anything at all.

New Jerseyans are divided on whether a state takeover would help (43%) or hurt (41%) the people who live and work in Atlantic City. Questions have also been raised about how development rights would be handled in the event of a state takeover.  About one-third of New Jersey residents (32%) feel that a state takeover would make it easier for political bosses and connected developers to get special deals on land development in Atlantic City while 26% say a state takeover would make this harder. Another 33% say a state takeover would make no difference on whether political insiders got development rights.

“There might be more public opposition to an Atlantic City takeover deal if it becomes a reality and the public actually starts paying attention to it,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 806 New Jersey adults, including 703 registered voters, from May 23 to 27, 2016.  The total sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent and the registered voter sample has a margin of error of + 3.7 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch