There isn’t much that Republicans and Democrats in New Jersey can agree on, but across party lines, New Jersey opposes the expansions of casinos outside of Atlantic City and opposes a ban on smoking in those casinos.
According to the latest results from the FDU Poll, while the environment around these issues has changed dramatically, there has been little movement in public opinion on these issues in more than a decade.
Just 37 percent of New Jersey residents say that they favor expanding casino gambling outside of Atlantic City, with a bare majority, 51 percent, saying that they oppose such an expansion. Opposition to casino expansion may be one of the few remaining bipartisan issues in the state: 50 percent of Democrats oppose it, along with 54 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents. Any expansion of casinos would require a vote on a constitutional amendment in the state; in 2016, such an amendment failed, 77 to 23.
“Competition from new casinos opening soon in New York City and the endless search for new sources of revenue mean that there’s a lot of pressure to open new casinos in Jersey,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the Executive Director of the Poll. “But if the state wants those casinos, they’re going to have to change a lot of minds.”
There’s also little sign that attitudes on the issue are changing. When the FDU Poll asked the same question to New Jersey residents in 2016, 50 percent opposed it, and 37 percent supported it: no different than the numbers this year. As far back as 2014, opposition was at 50 percent, with 42 percent opposing. However, support is a bit higher than it was in 2009, when just 24 percent said that they favored expansion.
“Views of casino expansion in New Jersey have been crystallized for years,” said Cassino. “None of the arguments that have been made in favor of expansion have made any dent.”
Older residents, who may remember the initial wave of casinos opening in Atlantic City in 1978, are the most skeptical about opening casinos elsewhere in the state. Only 25 percent of residents 65 and older favor casino expansion, with 65 percent saying that they oppose it. By way of contrast, 47 percent of residents 31 to 44 favor expansion – the only age group where supporters outnumber opponents.
In recent days, Atlantic City casinos have also been grappling with the issue of smoking on the gaming floors. Smoking was banned in most indoors areas in New Jersey in 2006, but exceptions were made for casinos, cigar bars and a few other types of businesses, and today Atlantic City casinos allow smoking in about one-quarter of their gaming areas. The state legislature has been considering a bill to ban smoking in casinos altogether, but casinos have argued that it would reduce their business, which has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and lead to layoffs.
Most New Jersey residents (57 percent) support the status quo on smoking in casinos, in which smoking is allowed only in certain designated areas. Twenty-nine percent support a complete ban on smoking in casinos, and 12 percent say that smoking should be allowed anywhere in a casino. These figures are not much changed from when the question was asked in 13 years ago, in 2009: then, 35 percent of New Jersey residents said that it should be banned entirely, with 47 percent saying that it should be limited to certain areas.
“This is a balancing act,” said Cassino. “Smoking bans protect workers from secondhand smoke, but no one wants to risk hurting the casino’s bottom lines and having to bail out Atlantic City. Again.”
Support for a ban on smoking in casinos is highest among older voters (42 percent among those 65 and older), and lowest among young voters (just 14 percent). More educated voters – those with a college degree – are more likely to support a ban (35 percent) than those without a four-year degree (24 percent). As with casino expansion, though, partisanship has no real impact on views of smoking in casinos: Democrats, Republicans and independents are all about equally likely to support a ban.