Is Life A Gamble? Poll finds acceptance, concerns as slots debut in PA

Columnist : Lincoln Institute

Harrisburg, PA – A statewide poll conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc., has found Pennsylvanians are accepting, even embracing the advent of slot machine gambling; but fear an increase in crime and social problems to the point where they believe such negative consequences will outweigh any economic benefits.

“Now that quarters are actually falling in slot machines, a majority of Pennsylvanians approve of the decision to allow slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania and are accepting of such activities,” said Lowman S. Henry, Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute.  “Although voicing their approval, however, our poll found deep concerns among Pennsylvanians over the negative consequences that often accompany more widespread gambling opportunities including crime, drug use, and social ills.”

The Lincoln Institute poll, conducted January 30-February 2, 2007 found 61% of Pennsylvanians expect to see an increase in crime and social problems as a result of more convenient gambling activities.  Of that number, 30% expect to see a significant increase in crime. Additionally, 43% said the potential increase in crime and social problems will outweigh the potential economic benefits of legalized slot machine gambling.  Thirty-six percent felt the benefits would outweigh the negative consequences.

“The results show somewhat of a disconnect among Pennsylvanians who, although expecting an increase in crime and social problems, still generally approve of legal gambling activities such as slot machines by a 63% to 33% ratio.” Henry explained, “Further, 62% of those surveyed expressed their approval of the decision to allow slot machine gambling in the state.”

Another area of concern for residents is the lack of promised significant property tax reform resulting from gambling tax revenues.  The Lincoln Institute poll found that among those who supported the legalization of slot machine gambling, 45% said the promise of reduced property taxes was a key factor in their decision.  Despite the failure of the state to deliver on its property tax reduction promise, 74% of those who supported the legalization of slot machine gambling would still do so.

There is no widespread expectation among the electorate that gambling tax revenue will lead to a significant reduction in property taxes.  In fact, 47% say they don’t expect to see any reduction in their property taxes as a result of gambling having been legalized in the state.  Only 10% of those polled expect total or significantly reduced property taxes.  About a third still expect to see their property taxes somewhat reduced.

“The failure of the Rendell Administration to deliver on promised property tax reform is driving public perception that state government has not dealt with them fairly,” Henry continued. “During a companion Public Opinion Court focus group we conducted on this issue, participants felt the actions viewed the governor and the General Assembly as a bigger problem than the potential activities of drug dealers and organized crime.”

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control board is among the state agencies held in low regard by survey participants.  Forty-five percent said they are less receptive to legalized gambling as a result of the control board’s performance. Only 22% said the job being done by the board has given them more confidence in the state’s oversight of gambling activities.

As Pennsylvania makes slot machine gambling more convenient, the Lincoln Institute poll found 49% percent of respondents say they never gamble, 33% gamble, but not very often, 14% say they sometimes gamble, and 4% said they gamble frequently.

Few admit to allowing gambling to affect their personal behavior.  For example, only 5% said they have spent time at a casino or other gambling activity instead of going to work or participating in family activities.  Two percent said they have lost enough money gambling that they were delayed in paying some bills or meeting other financial obligations.  “This is evidence that prior to the opening of casinos gambling addiction has not been a big problem in Pennsylvania,” Henry concluded. “Conversely any rise in those numbers in the future will be directly attributable to more convenient access to gambling opportunities.”

The Lincoln Institute’s “Is Life a Gamble?” poll was conducted January 30 – February 2, 2007 with Tel Opinion Research completing telephone interviews with 750 randomly selected state residents.  The poll holds a confidence level of 95% and is accurate with in +/-3.7% of “True Values.”