Poll Shows Slots Plan Has Wide Support

By John Wagner and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A broad majority of Maryland voters supports a proposal for slot machine gambling on the Nov. 4 ballot as deepening worries about the state budget outweigh lingering concerns about the social problems that slots might bring, according to a Washington Post poll.

Sixty-two percent of likely voters expressed support for the ballot measure, while 36 percent said they would vote against it. Only 2 percent said they were undecided about the proposal, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has cast as a partial solution to the state's fiscal problems and foes say will lead to increased crime, gambling addiction and other ills.

About one-third of voters who think slots might have negative consequences still support the plan, which legislative analysts predict would eventually generate more than $600 million a year for education. Other proceeds would go to operators of slots parlors and the horse-racing industry.

Passage or failure of the measure is intended to put to rest an issue that has dominated state politics for close to a decade and produced repeated legislative stalemates during the tenure of O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

The proposal, which would authorize as many as 15,000 machines at five locations, drew at least majority support from voters in all regions of the state, in both major political parties, and among all income and education levels. A majority of male and female voters and black and white voters said they would support the plan, which will appear as Question 2.

Nearly two-thirds of voters cited the economy and jobs as the most pressing issue in Maryland, a sevenfold increase from a year ago. The same percentage also said things are seriously on the wrong track in Maryland -- a jump of 15 percentage points from a year ago and a dramatic turnaround from two years ago, just before O'Malley's election, when nearly six in 10 said things were on the right track.

Nearly all Maryland voters are worried about the economy, and about two-thirds are concerned about family finances, the poll found.

Voters' dour outlook has no discernible effect on how they view O'Malley's performance, however. Fifty-three percent say they approve of the way the governor is handling his job, while 37 percent disapprove. Those numbers are about the same as a year ago, the last time The Post conducted a Maryland poll.

Polls since then have indicated a drop-off in O'Malley's popularity after a special legislative session last fall in which lawmakers initiated a series of budget cuts and raised taxes by nearly $1.4 billion a year.

During that session, the legislature approved O'Malley's plan to let voters decide whether to legalize slots. Under the plan, slot machines would be authorized in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and in Baltimore.

About two-thirds of voters in those jurisdictions said they would support the slots plan, despite warnings from opponents about negative impacts on their communities.

They include voters such as Lara Allen of Odenton, who said she lives about 10 miles from the most likely slots site in Anne Arundel, the Laurel Park horse racing track. Allen, 39, an information technology consultant, said she could envision more traffic resulting from slots but added that she thinks such concerns are overblown. She also questioned whether slots would generate as much money as advocates suggest.

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