The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released Wednesday finds 46 percent of respondents oppose the state's recent decision to legalize Internet betting, with 41 percent favoring it. That's down significantly from just two years ago, when 67 percent of respondents to the poll said they were against Internet gambling.
Gov. Chris Christie signed an online gambling bill into law on Feb. 26. It authorizes any game currently offered at an Atlantic City casino to be offered online, although no casino has yet gotten an Internet betting operation up and running.
The law won't take effect until the state Division of Gaming Enforcement sets a start date, sometime between three and nine months after the law was signed. Casino executives have estimated it could take six months to a year to get the system up and running.
"It's possible that the growth in support for the practice is a consequence of the legislation's passage," said Krista Jenkins, the poll's director and a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "Voters may be accepting the inevitable, or have acquired new information that brought about a change of heart, given the heightened exposure any new legislation brings with it."
Two thirds of those who support Internet gambling said additional revenue for the state is the main reason they favor it. Only 10 percent cited the convenience of being able to gamble online.
Those who oppose Internet gambling are clearly worried about potentially harmful effects it could have on society.
A third believe families and children will be hurt by caregivers who engage in compulsive gambling, and half are about evenly divided between those who say online gambling will make it too easy to gamble (26 percent) and those who are opposed to gambling in all forms (24 percent).
Among all respondents to the poll, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those who said they visited a casino in the last 12 months did so in Atlantic City, rather than going to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, or Las Vegas.
The poll also found that most respondents say individual states are better equipped than the federal government to decide if they should be allowed to offer legal sports betting. New Jersey recently lost a federal court battle to overturn a federal law restricting sports betting to four states that met a 1991 deadline to approve it: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.
New Jersey officials are appealing that ruling, and Christie says he's willing to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be.
"Right now, only a handful of states are permitted to allow legalized sports betting, and New Jersey is not one of them," Jenkins said. "New Jersey voters clearly see this as an example of federal overreach into state sovereignty. In a rare moment of agreement, voters of both parties agree the federal government should stay out of the matter and let New Jersey have its spoils."
The poll also asked respondents about commonly raised objections to sports betting; 60 percent said there is a likelihood that legal betting on college sports teams will corrupt college athletic programs, but only 42 percent felt that way about professional sports games. And 57 percent said legalized sports betting is likely to increase compulsive gambling and hurt individuals and families.
The statewide poll of 702 registered voters was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from March 4-10. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC