In July of 2004 the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law legalizing slot machine gambling. This was the first major expansion of gambling opportunities in the commonwealth since the Pennsylvania Lottery began operations on March 7, 1972. The legislation marked the beginning of a new era in gambling that will likely have a dramatic impact on the state's economy and social fabric.
Initially conceived as a means of financially shoring up the state's ailing horse racing industry, the slots bill grew into a more ambitious plan that also ended up allowing stand-alone slots casinos and slots at resort venues across the state. Currently, casinos are limited to slot machines, however powerful legislators are already talking about allowing other games of chance.
The first casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs opened its doors on November 14, 2006 and ushered in the slots era in Pennsylvania. Since that time additional venues have begun operating. Additional slots parlors are scheduled to open in the coming months.
With casino gambling a reality, the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. conducted a statewide poll to access public attitudes toward gambling; its effect upon personal financial well being; gambling's potential impact in terms of crime and social problems; and influence on future public policy debates. A total of 750 Pennsylvania residents were polled by Tele Opinion Research from January 20, 2007 thru February 2, 2007.
With quarters now falling into slot machines a solid majority of Pennsylvanians say they approve of the decision to allow slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania and are accepting of such activities. Although voicing their approval, however, the poll found deep concerns among Pennsylvanians over the negative consequences that often accompany more widespread gambling opportunities including crime, drug use, and social ills.
Sixty-three percent said that, generally speaking, they approve of legal gambling activities such as slot machines, table gaming and other types of casino gambling. Breaking that number down, 31% said they strongly approved of such activities while another 31% said they somewhat approved. One-third of the respondents said they disapproved of casino gambling. Of that number, 8% somewhat opposed casino gambling while 25% said they were strongly opposed.
Approval of casino gambling is higher among registered Democrats than among registered Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats said they approve of such activities while 52% of Republicans gave their approval. Voters who identified themselves as "liberal" were most likely to approve of casino gambling (71%), while 66% of moderates and 57% of conservatives were supportive. By religious affiliation, 76% of Catholics were supportive as were 74% of Lutherans. Baptists and non-denominational Christians were least supportive, with 45% of each category voicing their approval and 47% of Baptists along with 49% of non-denominational Christians in opposition.
The decision by the General Assembly and Governor Ed Rendell to allow slot machine gambling to be legalized in Pennsylvania drew overall support from 62% of the poll respondents with 38% strongly approving and 25% somewhat approving. Intensity of opinion was stronger among those who disapproved of the legislation. A total of 34% disapproved, with 28% voicing strong disapproval and another 6% saying they somewhat disapproved.
Registered Democrats voiced stronger support for the legalized gambling bill than did registered Republicans. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats said the Governor and the General Assembly made the right decision compared to 53% of Republicans. Conservatives (58%) were only slightly less supportive than moderates (65%) and liberals (64%). Lutherans (78%) and Catholics (74%) were most supportive of the legalization legislation with only 50% of non-denominational Christians and 53% of Baptists indicating their approval. Support for the bill was highest in the 41-50 age group at 72%, while those in the 18-30 and 65+ age groups gave it the lowest level of approval at 58%.
Of the 62% of the overall sample that approved of the decision to allow legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania, 52% said the promise of reduced property taxes was not a major factor in their support. However, 45% said they were "strongly influenced" by the promise of reduced property taxes.
Republicans in particular were influenced by the promised property tax reduction. Forty-eight percent of Republicans said promised reductions in property taxes influenced their support for legalized slot machine gambling as compared to 49% who would have supported such legalization anyhow. Although conservatives are generally thought to be more anti-gambling than liberals, it was self-described liberals who were more affected by promised property tax relief – 55% said they were influenced by it as opposed to 43% who were not – than conservatives, 42% of whom said they were influenced by the promise of property tax relief and 56% who said they were not.
In a follow-up question to the 62% who voiced approval of the decision to legalize slot machine gambling, 73% said they would still support the decision even though they personally have received no reduction in property taxes, while 19% said they would have opposed the legalization of slots casinos were it not for the promise of lower taxes.
There is not a high level of expectation among the general public that the advent of legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania will ultimately lead to any sort of property tax relief for them personally. Forty-seven percent told the Lincoln Institute they do not expect to see any reduction in their property taxes at all as a result of gambling having been legalized. Thirty-five percent indicated they expect to see their property taxes "somewhat" reduced, 7% expect to see their property taxes reduced considerably, and 3% expect to see their property taxes completely eliminated as a result of gambling tax proceeds.
Distrust of state government and it's institutions extended in the poll to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the agency set up to oversee and administer slot machine casinos in the state. Forty-five percent of poll respondents said the performance of the Gaming Control Board has made them less likely to be supportive of slot machine gambling, while only 22% said the board's conduct has made them more supportive of legalized gambling activities.
Respondents to the Lincoln Institute's Is Life A Gamble? poll voiced strong concern that there will be a significant increase in crime and social problems as a result of more convenient gambling activities. Overall, 61% expect to see an increase in crime and social problems. Of that number, 30% expect the increase in crime and social problems to be "significant," while another 32% expect to see "somewhat" of an increase. A total of 9% expect to see crime and social problems decrease as slot machine gambling becomes more available in the state.
The poll found those in the lowest income group, under $20,000 per year, most expect crime and social problems to increase. Seventy percent of respondents in the income category voiced such concerns. Such fears also were high in the $50-$75,000 income group as 69% said they expect crime and social problems to escalate.
By party affiliation, Republicans expect to see an increase in crime and social problems more than registered Democrats. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans anticipated such consequences compared to 55% of Democrats. Likewise, more respondents who identified themselves as conservatives said they expect social ills. Sixty-seven percent of conservatives are wary of increased crime and social problems compared to 60% of moderates and 57% of liberals.
Poll interviewees were also asked if they felt now that slot machine gambling has been legalized in Pennsylvania whether the potential economic benefits would outweigh the potential increase in crime and social ills, or whether the potential increase in crime and social ills would outweigh the potential economic benefits. Forty-three percent said they expect problems to outweigh benefits, while 36% said they expect benefits to outweigh problems. Another 21% said they were not sure.
Interestingly, of the two groups expressing the most pessimism that benefits would outweigh problems, one was the poll respondents who said they most strongly approve of legalized gambling, paradoxically the other was the group that most strongly disapproves of legalized gambling. Evangelical Christians (53%), conservatives (50%) and registered Republicans (49%) all expressed concerns that problems associated with legalized gambling would outweigh the potential economic benefits.
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. Of those who gamble, 45% said they have not visited an out-of-state casino within the past year while 43% said they have visited an out-of-state casino between one and five times during the past twelve months. Another 7% have been to an out-of-state casino between six and ten times, while 3% have visited such a facility between 11 and 15 times during the past years.
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. Of those who have elected to spend time at a casino or other gambling venue rather than go to work or participate in family activities, 6% said they have done so frequently, 28% admitted to jettisoning the family for gambling occasionally, and 55% said they had done so only once.
As slot machine casinos open their doors in Pennsylvania, compulsive gambling leading to personal financial difficulties is rare. The poll's findings in this area serve as a benchmark to residents' behavior prior to slot machine casinos becoming more convenient. It will be interesting in future years to measure responses to these questions against the current benchmark.
Only 2% of the respondents said they have lost enough money gambling that they have been delayed in paying some bills or meeting other financial obligations. Of that number, 66% said such a problem has occurred only one time, while 17% said they have gotten into financial trouble occasionally, and another 17% said they have experienced financial difficulties attributable to gambling frequently.
Most Pennsylvanians do not have a history of relying on gambling winnings to pay for personal bills. Ninety-four percent said they have never had to rely on winning at a gambling activity to pay personal bills. Six percent of respondents to the Lincoln Institute poll said they sometime have relied on winnings from gambling to pay personal bills, while only 1% said they do so frequently.
At the onset of Pennsylvania's casino era, vastly more Pennsylvanians say they put aside more money for retirement than they spend on gambling. Ninety-one percent of those polled said they spend less money gambling than they put aside for retirement. Five percent indicated they put roughly the same amount of money aside for retirement purposes as they spend on gambling activities. Only one percent indicated they spend or lose more money while gambling than they set aside in retirement savings.
Likewise, the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians are not depending on gambling winnings to help them finance their retirements. Ninety-six percent said no, they do not expect money won while gambling to help finance their retirements. Three percent said they expect to partially support themselves in their retirement years with gambling proceeds, while just 1% said they expect to totally live off gambling winnings when they retire.
Gambling losses for most Pennsylvania families are not currently impacting their ability to put money aside in savings account for their children and/or grandchildren. Ninety-five percent said they have never lost money gambling that would have gone into savings accounts for future generations. Three percent said they have sometimes lost money while gambling they might otherwise have saved, while only 1% said they have frequently lost money gambling that would have been put aside for their children and/or grandchildren.
Will people gamble more often, or less often as result of slot machine casinos opening their doors in the Keystone state? According to the Lincoln Institute poll results exactly half of the sample – 50% – said they expect to gamble just as often now as they did before. Despite the fact that slot machine gambling is now more convenient, 29% said they expect to gamble less often in the future than they have in the past, while 11% said they expect to gamble more often now that the slots parlors have opened in the state.
Although slot machine gambling has often been portrayed as an activity that appeals primarily to senior citizens, poll respondents in the 41-50 year old age group (18%) and the 18-30 demographic (9%) said they are likely to gamble more often now that slot machine casinos are open in the state. Only 6% of respondents 65 or older said they are likely to increase the frequency with which they will gamble. In fact, 26% of the senior citizens surveyed said they are likely to gamble less often now that there are slots casinos within the state.
The opening of slots casinos appears to be causing somewhat of a backlash against residents who describe themselves as being politically conservative. Thirty-seven percent of conservatives said they will gamble less often because slots are now legal in Pennsylvania; 24% of moderates and 20% of liberals said they would engage less often in such activities. Conversely, 15% of moderates and 14% of liberals said they plan to gamble more often, while 8% of conservatives will increase their gambling activity. Broken down by party lines, 14% of Democrats and 9% of Republicans say they will gamble more often because of the increase availability of slot machines.
Most Pennsylvanians say they will not shift money they currently spend on other recreational activities to gambling now that slots casinos have opened. Ninety-three percent say they will not cut back on other spending in order to cover losses at slots casinos, while 2% said they will partially shift money previously spent on other activities to cover gambling losses.
According to results of the Lincoln Institute survey, the Pennsylvania Lottery should not experience any significant decline in business as a result of slots parlors opening. Sixty-five percent of the survey participants said they will not shift money currently spent on playing the Pennsylvania Lottery to playing slots. Three percent said they will in fact take some of the money they currently spend on the state lottery and shift it to cover losses while playing slots; and less than 1% said they plan to take all the money they spend on the Pennsylvania Lottery and divert it to slot machine gambling. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said they do not current play the Pennsylvania Lottery.
Results of the Lincoln Institute's Is Life A Gamble? poll should be viewed through the prisms of the demographics of the survey respondents.
The age of poll respondents broke down as follows:
By political philosophy, 48% of those surveyed consider themselves to be conservative, 32% are moderates, and 17% describe themselves as being liberal. Another 3% were not sure or refused to answer. Forty-eight percent of those polled said they are Democrats, 42% are Republicans and 10% belong to another party or consider themselves to be independent of any political affiliation.
Educationally, 3% of those responding to the poll did not graduate from high school, 37% are high school graduates, 20% have a degree from a two-year college or a technical school, 24% have a degree from a four-year college or university, and 15% hold post-graduate degrees.
The religious affiliation of poll respondents is as follows:
Finally, the poll was closely balanced by gender with 52% of respondents being female and 48% being male.