Madison, NJ - New Jersey voters are of two minds in reacting to a series of proposals by the governor’s special commission on gaming, sports and entertainment.  According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, a majority (56%) say it’s a good idea to privatize the operations of the horse racetracks at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.  A similar majority (55%) say it’s a good idea to privatize the Izod Arena in the Meadowlands.  Democrats and Republicans agree on this, as do voters in both north and south Jersey. 

But the reaction is negative when it comes to the commission’s proposal to have the state run a special casino and tourism district in Atlantic City: 48% of voters say it’s a bad idea, while 38% say it’s a good idea.   Republicans and Democrats agree that it is a bad idea, but voters in north and south Jersey differ. Northerners by a 5-to-3 margin say it’s a bad idea, but voters in south Jersey split evenly on the question (43%-42%).  Moreover, voters who have been to a casino in the past 12 months are more likely to say it’s a good idea (42%) than voters who have not recently been to a casino (36%).

“The interests groups are all over it,” said Donald Hoover, a professor in FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and a former casino executive.  “But for the public, the proposals are a surprise, complicated and haven’t sunk in yet.”  A majority (56%) say they’ve heard just a little or nothing about them.

Voters also react negatively to the suggestion of giving state aid to complete the massive Xanadu project in the Meadowlands: 55% say it’s a bad idea against 20% who say it’s a good idea.  Democrats and Republicans agree that it’s a bad idea, as do folks from north and south Jersey.  “At least the public is consistent,” added Hoover. “They like private investors bearing costs, and in this economy the public is not in a mood to support state aid to privately owned projects.”  An FDU poll released March 31, 2010, showed voters also panned state subsidies to a casino project in Atlantic City.

Consistent with other statewide polls conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, a majority say that gambling should be kept in Atlantic City, rather than licensing it elsewhere in the state: 56% prefer to confine gaming to A.C., while 34% say the state should develop other places.  Majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree it is best left in Atlantic City, as do voters in north and south, as well as those who’ve been to a casino recently and those who have not.  “Atlantic City is still a sentimental favorite,” said Hoover, “but in the long run the logic of revenue will decide the question.”

For now, 63% say their preferred destination, in spite of opportunities in neighboring states, is Atlantic City; just 11% say they’d prefer to go to Pennsylvania, and 6% say they would rather go to Connecticut.  About a third say they’ve been to a casino in the past 12 months: 4 of 5 of this group say that most recently they went to Atlantic City.

“That looks like good news,” added Hoover, “but the competition is just beginning to advertise.  They’re already drawing players out of the state, and will be attracting more.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 801 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from July 27, 2010, through August 2, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.