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Howard Stutz

Most Americans Believe People Bet Beyond Their Means

24 May 2006

Americans are wagering more dollars in casinos, at racetracks and through state lotteries, but they're not too happy about it, a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press suggests.

The study found that seven out of 10 people questioned believe that legalized gambling encourages folks to spend more money than they can afford on the activity. The Washington, D.C.-based center called the finding a "modest backlash" toward legalized gambling despite a decade-long explosion in the growth of states offering casino gambling and the boom over the past few years in online wagering Web sites.

Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, said the softening of support for legalized gaming isn't surprising because the activity has become a growing part of the American culture.

"What's interesting is that when you have an activity that over a long period of time becomes more pervasive, you're either going to see increased public acceptance, or some sort of backlash," Taylor said. "I think the modest softening of public support is related to that pervasiveness."

The survey, which was conducted nationally by telephone between Feb. 8 and March 7, questioned 2,250 adults on their views about legalized gambling. The Pew Research Center is conducting a series of surveys into American social trends. It was the first time Pew looked at Americans' attitudes toward gambling on an expansive level, other than just asking a few questions as part of another survey.

To gauge a change in American attitudes on gaming, the Pew Research Center used the results of a 1989 survey on gambling conducted by The Gallup Organization.

While 70 percent of Americans say legalized gambling encourages people to gamble more money than they can handle, 62 percent expressed similar reservations, according to Gallup in 1989.

"The is really just a snapshot of public attitudes on gaming," Taylor said. "It's a small softening of support for legalized gaming, but a we still have a great majority of the public still supportive of the notion of legalized casinos."

Casino industry representatives were not surprised by the Pew findings.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, who has studied dozens of surveys on legalized gaming over the past few years, said the findings were not different from other studies. The attitude that legalized gambling causes people to wager more than they can handle is a common finding.

"This seem consistent with what we've seen in other public polling," Feldman said. "People's opinions have always been that gambling is OK for me and my friends, but not for others."

American Gaming Association Executive Director Judy Patterson said the Pew survey had similar findings to those discovered in the organization's annual survey of the American gaming consumer.

"It really confirms nothing new," Patterson said. "More and more people are going to casinos for the entertainment value."

In 1989, casino gambling was legal in just three states -- Nevada, New Jersey and South Dakota. Today, every state except Hawaii and Utah has some form of gambling.

Americans can wager legally in almost 900 casinos, 455 Las Vegas-style casinos operate in 11 states and 406 casinos on American Indian reservation in 29 states. In addition, 11 states operate racetrack-casino combinations, known as racinos, and nine states are exploring laws that would allow their existing racetracks to convert to racinos.

In March, North Carolina became the 42nd state to launch a state lottery.

Nevertheless, the survey found that fewer people approve of state-run lotteries, 71 percent compared with 78 percent in the 1989 Gallup study, and even fewer support the increased legalization of casinos, racetrack wagering or betting on professional sports.

Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed believe gambling is immoral. Pew cited a similar 1990 survey by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in which 32 percent of Americans said they considered gambling immoral.

The Pew study found that 29 percent of Americans report having gone to a casino in the past year, up from 20 percent who said they did this in 1989. Also, those who go to casinos are going more frequently, according to Pew.