Civil Beat poll: Hawai‘i voters don’t want gambling

Hawai‘i voters aren’t ready to roll the dice on legalized gambling, according to the latest Civil Beat Poll.

The Hawai‘i Legislature keeps coming back to gambling as a way to raise revenues, but the Civil Beat Poll found that 59 percent of likely voters think that gambling should remain illegal in Hawai‘i.

It follows, then, that 62 percent of voters opposed the idea of allowing a single casino in Waikiki, a proposal that has the backing of a group called Citizens for a Better Way. Gov. Neil Abercrombie didn’t mention gambling or a casino in this year’s State of the State speech, but he’s made it public that he’s willing to consider the possibility, with some saying he’s told them that he would “look favorably” at it.

Civil Beat’s automated telephone survey of 1,358 likely voters1 found that just 33 percent said gambling should be legal, with 5 percent saying it doesn’t matter and 2 percent unsure. The poll was conducted on January 18 and 19 and has a margin of error of  2.7 percent.

Hawai‘i is the only state other than Utah that prohibits gambling. Advocates of allowing a single casino point to the amount of travel from Hawai‘i to Las Vegas every year and the amount of money that flows out of the state as a result, as well as the lack of entertainment options in Waikiki.

In a recent column on Civil Beat, lobbyist John Radcliffe wrote that the winning bidder for a single license would have to pay a $150 million “impact” fee to the state and that the casino would be subject to a 15 percent general excise tax.

Gambling was a hot issue at the end of last year’s legislative session and is expected to be the subject of intense debate again this year.

SB2210, sponsored by Sen. Clayton Hee, would grant a 20-year license for one casino in Waikiki, not in a hotel. It would also establish a Hawai‘i Gaming Control Comission and impose a 15 percent wagering tax. Perhaps the most likely bill to emerge from this year’s session is SB2893, which would create a task force to study the gambling issue and push a decision on next steps to 2013, after the election.

The Waikiki Improvement Association recently released the findings of a survey it commissioned about the possibility of a Waikiki casino. A statewide sampling of 1,000 “local residents” showed that 58 percent said they felt it would have a positive economic impact, while 37 percent disagreed. At the same time, 54 said that legalized gambling would have a negative impact, while 42 percent said it wouldn’t.

One major difference between that survey and the Civil Beat Poll is that we only interviewed likely voters, the segment of the adult population that actually goes to the polls and helps decide the future of the state.

Among the Civil Beat Poll’s findings about attitudes toward gambling:

Women more opposed than men: While men were almost evenly divided, with 42 percent saying gambling should be legal in Hawai‘i, and 48 opposed, when it comes to women the gap is huge. Just a quarter of women, 26 percent, say they think gambling should be legal, while 69 percent say it should be illegal. (Women in Hawai‘i vote more than men.) And the percent of undecided voters of both genders is minuscule, 2 percent of women and 3 percent of men.

Every age group opposed: No matter the age range, the results were the same. A majority of every group — 18-34, 35-49, 50-64 and 65+ — opposed legalizing gambling in Hawai‘i. The most opposed were those between the ages of 35 and 49, with 71 percent rejecting the idea.

Opposition crosses party lines: Democrats, Republicans and Independents are all against legalizing gambling, with Independents and those unsure of where they stand in the political spectrum most likely to be open to legalization.

The more educated the voter, the more opposed: While voters without a high school diploma were evenly divided on whether they would support legalization and high school graduates were barely more likely to oppose legalization than to favor it, when it came to college graduates and voters with graduate degrees, the split was at least 2-1 against legalization. Of college graduates, 62 percent said gambling should be illegal compared with 32 in favor. Of those with graduate degrees, the margin was more than 3-1, with 74 percent opposed and just 21 percent supporting opening the state to gambling.

All incomes oppose Hawai‘i gambling: Households with income of $50K or less, between $50K and $100K and more than $100K all opposed legalization.

Only the Big Island even close to supporting legalization: In O‘ahu, Maui and Kaua‘i counties, opposition runs from 57 percent to 65 percent. But Hawai‘i Island voters are divided, with 47 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

Attitudes toward casino mirror attitudes toward legalization: The question about the casino turned over answers that are very similar to those about gambling. One exception was that while the Big Island is most open to legalizing gambling, voters there oppose a single casino in Waikiki, 60 percent to 35 percent. Those numbers are very similar to the opposition on O‘ahu, 63 percent to 25 percent.

• Honolulu Civil Beat is an online news source serving Hawai‘i. Read more at www.civilbeat.com.

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