ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
As New Jersey moves ever closer to legalizing sports betting, a new poll shows Americans are evenly split on whether it should be legal across the nation.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll finds voters split 42 to 42 percent over whether people should be allowed to bet on professional and collegiate sports. But the trend is moving in favor of permitting it. The group's last poll on the subject, in March 2010, found 53 percent of voters opposed to sports betting, with only 39 percent favoring it.
Poll director Peter Woolley predicts support will grow if sports betting is promoted as a new source of revenue for cash-strapped states.
"Gambling has become, for good or ill, a national industry, and you can bet that politicians and casinos all over the country are closely following New Jersey's plans," he said.
New Jersey is expected to approve a sports betting law next month, then go to federal court to try to overturn a federal ban on it in all but four states. Garden State voters in a non-binding referendum in last month's election indicated by a 2-to-1 margin they want sports betting legalized in New Jersey.
Mark Moffa, a Yardley, Pa. resident and huge Philadelphia Eagles fan who works near Princeton, would take advantage of it.
"I'd love the opportunity to place a sports bet," he said. "It's something a lot of people do anyway, whether it's on the Internet or through a friend or just among themselves. It should be legal and have the opportunity to be taxed."
Likewise, Bill Ordine, a former newspaper journalist who now runs the phillygambles.com website, would place a bet now and then if it were legalized in New Jersey.
"There is enormous pent-up demand for sports wagering," he said. "We write about it because even though we can't do it on our region, it is part of the water-cooler conversation. Every time someone talks about what Atlantic City needs to save it, the talk turns to sports betting.
"I grew up in South Philadelphia, and the enthusiasm for sports wagering in this region is unparalleled," he said. "Taking a risk is part of our DNA. If you're an Eagles fan and you're in Vegas, even as disgusted as you are with this team, you may take $10 and put it on the team to win the Super Bowl. You can't do that here."
The FDU poll of 855 registered voters nationwide was conducted by both land lines and cellphones from Nov. 29 through Dec. 5. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The group most strongly in favor of sports betting is households that already do it. Voters in households where people already bet on sports, or participate in an office pool, approve overwhelmingly of the idea by a margin of 71 to 23 percent. Voters in households where no one bets on sports oppose the notion, 46 to 36 percent.
Men favor the idea by margin of 49 to 37 percent, while women oppose the notion by a similar margin, 47 to 35 percent.
Age is an important indicator of support, too. Voters under 45 favor the idea, while older voters generally oppose it.
New Jersey last week dropped a provision from its proposed sports betting law that would have permitted state residents to place bets from their home computers or cellphones. The changes were made in the hope of getting Gov. Chris Christie to support it. He vetoed a bill in March that would have made New Jersey the first state in the nation to allow in-state Internet gambling.
The FDU poll found voters nationwide oppose Internet betting by a 2-to-1 margin. That opposition is little changed from 2010.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC