Capitolwire: New poll tests online gaming arguments for lawmakers.

June 19, 2014

Capitolwire: New poll tests online gaming arguments for lawmakers.

By Kevin Zwick
Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG (June 19) – A Quinnipiac University poll from December showed a majority of Pennsylvania voters did not like the idea of online gambling, but a new poll from two political firms shows that might not be the last word.

Two national political firms found support among Pennsylvania voters for “online poker” specifically, during a time when lawmakers are considering expanding online gaming to help generate revenue to address the $1.5 billion budget deficit. The poll was commissioned by a casino company that would likely benefit from an online gambling expansion, Caesars Entertainment Operating Company, so take it with a grain of salt.

But while Quinnipiac asked voters plainly if they would “support or oppose” online gambling, the political firms’ survey essentially poll-tests possible talking points that frame the argument in the context of education funding and the state budget and combating illegal online gaming sites.

“The context matters,” said Terry Madonna, a pollster with Franklin and Marshall College. Adding the information about education and the phrasing of the question – as the poll says: “people have a right to play provided they could afford it, the games are fair and regulated, and minors are prohibited from playing” – would make it more likely to help the respondents find in favor of online gaming, Madonna said.

The poll – conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm run by Mitt Romney’s pollster Neil Newhouse, and Global Strategy Group, a Democratic firm with several Obama alums – surveyed 602 likely general election voters June 4-8 using live callers on land lines and cell phones and has a plus-or-minus 4 percent margin of error.

“Our survey research shows that allowing online poker in Pennsylvania and taxing the proceeds is a politically viable option as a source of new state revenue. It generates little heat either pro or con, and past expansions of gaming in Pennsylvania have shown that there is little likelihood that allowing online poker will cause heartburn for incumbents in November,” according to the polling memo.

The poll shows there are four “convincing” arguments to make in support of online poker, all of which garnered just over 50 percent support from voters and are statistically tied, which observers can expect to hear if the online gaming chatter picks up again in the Capitol.

The top argument, which 55 percent of voters said was very convincing or somewhat convincing, said the best way to shut down illegal foreign gambling sites is with “legal, regulated, and fair alternatives here in Pennsylvania. Until residents have a safe, fair, and legal alternative, illegal black market sites will continue to operate and scam consumers.”

The argument where 54 percent of voters say was very or somewhat convincing tied in the economic and budgetary argument, while also slamming “foreign websites” and “foreign companies.”

“Making online poker safe, fair, and regulated in our state would keep that money right here in Pennsylvania where it belongs – helping fund our schools and provide property tax relief,” the poll proffered to voters.

The poll found that voters’ perception of online poker changes when they are informed of safeguards. The issue was a main concern among Senate lawmakers during a public hearing earlier this month over the issue of online gaming. Gov. Tom Corbett has expressed concerns about online gaming as well because of access by minors and gambling addiction.

“The likelihood of voters supporting online poker in Pennsylvania increases when they learn about the consumer protection provisions that would be included in any responsible online poker legislation,” the polling memo says. The poll shows 54 percent are more likely to support allowing online poker knowing it includes strict age and identity verification requirements. Forty-six percent are more likely to support it knowing there are monthly spending limits included in legislation to expand online gaming.