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AGA Survey Reveals Questions

10 May 2002

by Richard N. Velotta

LAS VEGAS -- A survey conducted for the American Gaming Association says most Americans agree legalized casino gambling is a good way for cities and states to generate money without raising taxes, but a quarter of those surveyed say they have no idea what those revenues pay for.

The taxation questions are part of the survey's examination of public perceptions of the gaming industry.

Pollsters Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. and the Luntz Research Cos. conducted the fourth annual "State of the State: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment" for the Washington-based association.

The results are generally favorable to the industry, portraying gambling as a mainstream activity acceptable to a majority of the population.

"The results contradict a stereotype perpetuated by gambling opponents that people who gamble are not representative of the population as a whole," said AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf in a message accompanying release of the poll results.

The study focused on casino gambling and not any other form of wagering and did not include revenue results from Indian casinos.

The Hart-Luntz study was conducted Jan. 17-22 with randomly selected telephone calls to 901 Americans. The survey also included an additional 441-person sampling of people who had visited a land-based, riverboat or Indian casino with the past year also was conducted.

The margin of error for the total sample was plus or minus 3.3 percent and plus or minus 4.6 percent on the casino-visiting oversample.

While the state Gaming Control Board reported Nevada recorded its first annual revenue decrease since 1981 as a result of a softening economy and the travel downturn that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a survey of all gaming jurisdictions indicated the industry revenue overall grew from $24.5 billion in 2000 to $25.7 billion in 2001. The increase was attributed to new casinos in Michigan and Missouri and an increase in limits in South Dakota.

While most of the survey results on perceptions on gaming acceptability, individual rights, responsible gaming and the benefits of casinos were consistent with results from previous years, the lack of knowledge on taxation produced a mild surprise from one expert.

William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, said there was little in the survey that surprised him and the study was a bid for favorable public relations at a time when lawmakers are looking for revenue sources to fill coffers depleted by a weak economy and the aftershocks of Sept. 11.

"Sin taxes are where legislators are going to turn," Eadington said, "especially in places where there are still excess profits, like in Illinois."

But lawmakers walk a fine line, he said, because some casino companies have said they would cut off investing in states where taxes are increased. Meanwhile, other states are looking at adding or increasing gaming, offering the potential of new markets for some companies.

"You've got some interesting battles between Indian tribes and racetrack owners in Arizona and New York and gaming issues are hotly debated in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Kentucky," Eadington said.

While most lawmakers have a cynical perspective of who casino patrons are, the AGA's survey takes great pains to portray players as flag-waving Americans.

One survey question asked "Do you currently fly an American flag outside your home or on your car?" (67 percent of the U.S. population said they did while 71 percent or casino customers said yes) and another asked "Have you ever missed a deadline for filing your income tax return?" (88 percent of the U.S. population and 89 percent of casino customers said they hadn't.)

"They're trying to overcome the prejudice that gamers are low-lifers drawn from the other side of the tracks," Eadington said.

The survey results on how gaming tax revenue is spent indicate the industry has to do a better job of explaining that, he added.

Other results from the survey:

More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement, "Casino gambling can be a fun night out." Also, more than 60 percent agreed that, "Casinos bring widespread economic benefits to other industries and businesses with the region." The AGA says those results show most Americans recognize the economic and entertainment value of casinos.

The survey said 83 percent say gambling is a question of "personal choice," while 79 percent say it's a question of "personal freedom." That's less than the 90 percent that stood by the "personal freedom" answer a year ago.

About 79 percent say casino gambling is acceptable for themselves or others, with the highest demographics for that answer shown by affluent people, from the West and people in their 20s.

The industry attracted more than 52.3 million people making a total of 303 million visits to casinos, putting them in the same league as theme parks, the report's executive summary said.

Casino patrons were more likely than Americans as a whole to donate $100 to charity, own a home and vote in a recent election, but they were less likely than most Americans to attend at least one Major League Baseball game in the last year.

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