Even in the best of times, the idea of allowing large casino resorts in Massachusetts was a controversial one. Still, the residents of the state seemed to generally support the idea – at least until recently. Now, a new poll has shown just how far support for the casino law has fallen.

Massachusetts casinos, Anti-casino sentiment

Anti-casino sentiment is growing throughout Massachusetts. (Image: AP)

According to a poll released this week by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald, only 37 percent of Massachusetts voters now support having casinos in the state, while 47 percent oppose the idea (15 percent were undecided). That’s a huge shakeup in the state’s opinion of expanded gambling: as recently as February, 51 percent of voters said that they were in favor of the new casinos.

Potential Repeal Vote Looms

If the general public’s opinion of the casino law wasn’t considered particularly important in the past, that view could easily change later this year. Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court is currently debating whether a measure to repeal the casino law should be allowed on a statewide ballot in November, and the new numbers suggest that voters might kick the casinos out of the state if given the chance.

“It seems like you’ve had a major shift in opinion as the reality of casinos and the regressive nature of what happens with the placement of casinos in Massachusetts in addition to some of the social issues,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

Casinos Cite “Fatigue” Among Residents

Casino officials tried to put a positive spin on the numbers – at least to the extent that they could. There have been a lot of issues in the licensing and approval process, and MGM Springfield spokesperson Carole Brennan said that stories about those battles may have temporarily soured the public on casinos as a whole.

“A long licensing process may have resulted in casino fatigue for some residents of the Commonwealth,” she said in a statement. “But we are optimistic that MGM Springfield will be designated the Western Mass licensee soon and that will show voters that thousands of new jobs and strong economic opportunities are real outcomes, not just slogans.”

The Suffolk poll also asked about where a Greater Boston region casino would make sense: either in Revere or Everett. Revere was favored, but that’s not to say it was popular statewide; only 18 percent said they thought Revere made sense as a casino location, compared to five percent for Everett. A whopping 56 percent said that neither location made sense to them.

For anti-casino activists, this reinforced the idea that people were thinking about the whole state, rather than just their towns.

“I think the tied as turned,” said Steven Abdow, a leader of Repeal the Casino Deal. “People realize more and more that they wouldn’t want one in their community…and the issue’s not really about my backyard, it’s about the state.”

While the numbers aren’t great, none of this means that casinos in Massachusetts are doomed. It’s likely that the state gaming commission will award MGM a license in the next few days, and the courts may well rule that the casino repeal question can’t show up on the ballot. Even if it does, there may be voters who aren’t happy about the casinos, but wouldn’t go so far as to vote for rescinding licenses from the casinos – and the casino developers would have plenty of time to launch another PR blitz to state their case before voters went back to the polls.