Herald Poll- Opposition to Casinos Growing- Work Still Needs to go on. Lobby your legislators!

Poll: Miami-Dade voters evenly split on casinos, but opposition growing

After months of debate, Miami-Dade voters don’t clearly support or oppose large-scale casinos, are worried about the local economy and oppose re-naming the Miami Art Museum for a generous donor.

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BY SCOTT HIAASEN AND PATRICIA MAZZEI
SHIAASEN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
Miami-Dade voters are evenly divided on whether to allow casino gambling in South Florida, but opposition appears to be growing even as the Legislature debates competing plans to open the region to Las Vegas-style casino resorts, according to a new poll.

In a survey of 400 registered voters in Miami-Dade, voters split almost equally over the idea of large-scale casinos. The electorate is similarly divided over putting a destination resort and casino in downtown Miami on

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The Miami Herald’s waterfront property.

Pollster Bendixen & Amandi International conducted the poll Tuesday through Thursday for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, WFOR-CBS 4 and Univisión 23 to gauge voters’ attitudes about casino gambling and other local issues. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

On gambling “the vote in the electorate is still very much split,” said Fernand Amandi, the firm’s managing partner.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they supported the concept of Las Vegas-style resorts, while 46 percent said they opposed it — a narrow difference within the poll’s margin of error. Ten percent did not answer or offered no opinion.

The poll also asked about specific plans for a $3.8 billion casino resort on Biscayne Bay proposed by Genting, a Malaysian casino company that bought The Herald property last year. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they supported the plan, and 45 percent said they were opposed — again within the margin of error — with 9 percent offering no opinion.

The voters’ attitudes toward Genting’s proposal remained largely unchanged even after hearing arguments for and against the project, the survey found. The poll is the first to publicly gauge voter sentiment about the Genting proposal.

The poll appears to reflect an increase in opposition to casinos in recent months: Just seven months ago, a Miami Herald survey of likely voters found only 38 percent opposed casino gambling in Miami and Miami Beach, with 50 percent supporting casinos and 12 percent saying they had no opinion.

Since that time, several civic and business leaders have spoken out publicly against Genting’s Miami project, which, as currently drawn, would be larger than any resort in Las Vegas. A second casino operator, Las Vegas Sands, is also exploring a casino, hotel and convention center downtown, and a third, MGM Resorts International, has also expressed interest.

In Tallahassee, lawmakers are considering differing proposals that would expand gambling by allowing a handful of casinos at mega-resorts costing at least $2 billion. Bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives would require local voters to approve any casinos by referendum.

Genting officials said they are confident that voters will accept casino gambling as they learn more about it.

“The bottom line is that the proposed legislation gives voters the last word on destination resorts. Those opposing the legislation want to deny local residents their right to make their voices heard on this issue,” said Jessica Hoppe, an executive with Genting subsidiary Resorts World Miami in a statement to The Herald.

Opponents of casinos worry about crime and a deteriorating quality of life: 39 percent of those polled who oppose casinos said they believe gambling will harm the community, and 22 percent said they worried casinos will attract more crime. Another 23 percent of opponents said they opposed gambling on principle.

“I think there’s a lot of bad things that happen when there is gambling in a city,” said Bernardo Lederman of Surfside. “I think all kinds of individuals who are not very honest are going to get most of the money and take it out of here.”

Of those who favor Vegas-style casinos in Florida, 55 percent said they approve because they believe casinos will create more jobs; Genting, for example, has said its Miami resort would bring 19,000 new jobs to the city. Another 24 percent of supporters said they think casino resorts will help the local economy, and 12 percent said they will boost tourism.

“It brings the tourists here. It gives them something to do besides sitting on the beach,” said Barry Haber, a gambling supporter from Kendall. Haber scoffs at the notion that casinos will attract a criminal element: “The bad guys are already here,” he said.

While the poll suggests that casino supporters have more work to do to win over the community, Miami-Dade voters have approved gambling before: Four years ago, they approved a referendum allowing slot machines at local pari-mutuels.

“Miami-Dade residents have repeatedly voiced their support for gaming in the past and are now learning about the positive economic impacts that can derive from destination resorts,” Hoppe said.

A majority of those polled did not believe The Miami Herald building merits protection as an historic structure, as some preservationists have said.

The Herald poll also shows that Miami-Dade voters are increasingly worried about the state of the local economy — and they fear their own finances are going to get worse, not better.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed identified unemployment and the weak economy as the single most important problems facing Miami-Dade County. In a similar Miami Herald poll last May, only 18 percent of the respondents said unemployment was the county’s biggest problem, and six percent cited the weak economy.

Twenty-one percent of those surveyed in the newest poll said corruption in county government was the biggest problem in Miami-Dade.

Only 16 percent said their personal financial situation has improved in the past year, while 40 percent said their financial status remained the same. Forty-two percent said their financial condition was “a little worse” or “a lot worse” than last year.

A majority of respondents, 55 percent, said they believe the economy and job opportunities in the county are getting worse. Among Hispanics, 64 percent believe the county’s economics are getting worse, and 55 percent of African-Americans surveyed are down on the economy.

Twenty-three percent of those surveyed believe that the economy is improving, and 22 percent did not answer or did not have an opinion.

The Herald poll found that few voters paid attention to the controversy over the naming rights of the Miami Art Museum, which will be named for developer Jorge M. Perez in exchange for a $35 million gift of cash and art. Some museum donors and board members objected to changing the name of the museum, which is being built with more than $100 million in public dollars.

Almost two-thirds of those polled said they were not paying close attention to the dispute. But after hearing arguments on both sides of the issue, 54 percent of respondents said re-naming the museum was a “bad idea.”

One issue received almost unanimous consent from those polled: 92 percent of respondents said they supported a legislative proposal to ban texting while driving.

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