In an attempt to find national political support for the gaming industry, the American Gaming Association Tuesday released highlights of a poll that it says shows voters view gaming more favorably than in previous years.
According to the poll, more Americans embrace gaming, and more Americans believe casinos create jobs and strengthen local communities. It also says a portrait of today’s gambler would look much like that of the average American.
The AGA says the bottom line in the survey is that casinos should not be treated differently than other businesses. In many states casino tax rates are more than 50 percent of their revenues. Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, refers to the high rate as the “tax and torture method” – a combination of punitive gaming taxes and outdated regulations that threaten the industry as competition increases.
Mississippi’s 8 percent state tax and 4 percent local tax are among the lowest rates of the 23 states that have legalized casino gaming.
“Voters recognize that casinos are a mainstream form of entertainment and an economic driver that supports jobs and boosts growth in communities like Biloxi and across the nation,” Freeman said upon the release of the poll numbers. “Casino visitors are a portrait of the American electorate, and voters applaud Mississippi policymakers for treating casinos like any other business.”
The spread of competition nationwide has contributed to Mississippi’s drop in gross gaming revenues — the money left over when payouts are deducted from wagers — over the last five-to-seven years. While the Gulf Coast has shown indications that the market is becoming more stable, the Tunica area — once one of the nation’s top three gaming destinations — remains in a freefall. Harrah’s Tunica, with its three hotels and golf course, closed last week.
Despite the friendly tax rate for casino owners, Gov. Phil Bryant indicated earlier this year that casinos should not expect any additional help from the state. “I don’t see anything more we can do,” he told The Clarion-Ledger last March. “There’s political resistance, so it’s unlikely we can do more than that. It’s a market that moves with the economy and with competition.”
The poll highlights show that American voters view casino gaming favorably by a 2-to-1 margin, that more than 70 percent recognize that casinos create jobs, nearly 60 percent know casinos boost local economies and a majority says casinos should pay more taxes than other businesses.
The poll says the average casino visitor is a homeowner and earns between $60,000 and $99,000 annually. Half are college graduates, two-thirds attend church regularly and most fall in the 21-59 age group.
When asked during Tuesday’s conference call to break down wide-ranging age group, pollsters said 37 percent of visitors fall in the coveted 21-39 age group.
Convincing younger casino players to play slot machines, which are more profitable to casinos than table games, is an issue confronting casino operators.
Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they visit casinos for the same reasons they enjoy other entertainment, like shopping, going to a ball game, or attending a concert: to “have fun and socialize with friends and family.” Nearly three-fourths of visitors set a budget before they walk in the door, the poll found.
“When people in Mississippi visit a casino, they set a budget — whether they’re gambling, shopping, eating at a restaurant, or taking advantage of one of the other mainstream forms of entertainment our casinos offer,” State Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, the first chairman of the House Gaming Committee, wrote in a statement. “Our residents are hardworking, people who maintain a retirement savings account and serve on their children’s Parent Teacher Association or coach their Little League team — and they also have a little fun at our casinos, too.”
The national telephone survey was conducted May 17-22 by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, CEO of the Mellman Group, and Republican pollster Glen Bolger, founder and partner of Public Opinion Strategies. It included a national telephone survey of 1,000 registered voters (with margin of error of 3.1 percent), and an oversample of up to 560 of those who have attended a casino in the past year (margin of error of 4.1 percent).