Poll: Yes to sports bets, no to Xanadu tax break

October 10, 2011 5:07:21 AM PDT
A new poll finds New Jersey residents want the opportunity to legally bet on professional sports games.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released Monday also finds New Jersey residents are opposed to using public money to help out the owners of the stalled Meadowlands development formerly known as Xanadu.

A non-binding referendum on the November ballot will ask voters whether the state Constitution should be amended to permit sports betting. A federal ban on sports betting would have to be overturned before any bets could be taken at casinos or racetracks.

The poll shows 52 percent favor the measure, with 31 percent opposed.

"New Jerseyans are used to having gambling in their state, and used to having it in Atlantic City," said Peter Woolley, an FDU political scientist and director of the poll. "I think they see this as revenue for the state."

Pollsters found that 71 percent of voters surveyed said they had heard little or nothing about the non-binding referendum, and two-thirds said they had little interest in the sports-betting issue.

"Voter turnout will be relatively low in November, and the percentage of people voting on the referendum will be even lower," said Woolley. "But even those who have little or no interest in the issue favor sports betting by a 10-point margin."

Men favor sports betting by a 65-to-21 percent margin, but women are split on it, with 41 percent opposed and 39 percent in favor.

The ballot question asks whether "it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law wagering at casinos or gambling houses in Atlantic City and at current or former running and harness horse racetracks on the results of professional, certain college or amateur sport or athletic events."

The interpretive statement that follows points out that "a `yes' vote on this question would allow the Legislature, when permitted by federal law, to legalize the placing of bets on certain sports events at casinos, racetracks and former racetrack sites."

If the question is approved, New Jersey legislators would have to pass a law authorizing sports betting. And then a federal ban on sports betting would have to be overturned in all but four states that met a 1991 deadline to approve sports wagering.

The statement also points out that bets could not be placed on any college sports or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey, or any event in which a New Jersey college team is playing.

The poll also found that residents, by a 58-to-31 percent margin, don't want tax money used to help out the American Dream retail and entertainment project in the Meadowlands.

In June, the state Legislature approved a bill making the complex eligible for up to $200 million in tax breaks for the half-finished complex, which was formerly known as Xanadu and widely derided as the ugliest building in New Jersey with its exterior panels of brown, turquoise and lime green. Those incentives have not received final approval, however.

"The public's reaction to tax breaks for a private developer in the Meadowlands is completely consistent with its opposition to tax breaks for private developers elsewhere in the state," Woolley said. "People see sports betting as revenue-in. People see tax credits as revenue-out. New Jersey taxpayers are not much in the mood for revenue-out, especially if it is to support big business."

The sprawling $2.7 billion complex originally was slated to open in 2007, but faced multiple delays and legal stumbles before creditors took the project over. In May, Gov. Chris Christie announced mall developer Triple Five would take over the project and expand it into a 3-million-square-foot entertainment smorgasbord featuring everything from shops and nightclubs to water parks and a skating rink. A movie theater boasting more than two dozen screens and a ski slope with real snow also were part of the plan.

Pollsters surveyed 800 registered voters by cellphones and by land line telephones. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC


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