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Dueling casino polls show local Miami Dade support but state reluctance

Voters in Miami-Dade County's most conservative state Senate district strongly support bringing casinos to South Florida, a new Genting-backed poll shows.

The survey contrasts, however, with a statewide poll done for casino opponents that shows only 20 percent of voters across the state want to see an expansion of gambling.

"Polls usually reflect what the person who ran the poll is interested in,'' says Alex Villalobos, the former Miami state senator who represented Senate District 38 for 18 years, the district surveyed by the Genting poll done by Miami pollster and Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno. Story here.

According to the survey of 400 likely voters interviewed Oct. 8-12, 60 percent support “changing the law to allow three destination resorts and casinos to be built in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties” and 35 percent oppose. Of those in support, Hispanic and Anglo men had the strongest support (76 percent and 67 percent respectively), followed by Hispanic women at 62 percent. Only 44 percent of Anglo women support it.

By contrast, a statewide poll of 722 likely voters conducted Sept. 22-26 for No Casinos, a Disney-backed group that opposes the expansion of gambling, asked voters if Florida had too much legalized gambling, too little or “an appropriate amount.”

The results, by pollster Hill Research, found that 47 percent believe Florida should “keep things as they are,” while 30 percent believe there is too much gambling and 20 percent believe there is too little.

The polls are the first in a wave of dueling data expected to emerge in the next few months as Florida legislators take up a bill to authorize casino gambling in Miami-Dade and Broward.

The proposal, which will allow for three casino companies to commit to building at least $2 billion resort-style developments in the area, is still being drafted, said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, one of the two legislative sponsors.

Genting’s Resorts World Miami, the Malaysian-based casino operator, purchased the Miami Herald’s bay front property last spring in an attempt to persuade legislators to accelerate the casino debate.

In the last month, a coalition of business-back groups, including Disney, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County sheriff have put their support behind No Casinos, a political committee originally formed to oppose efforts to legalize casinos.

“All of Florida has changed,’’said Villalobos said. “Over the past 15 years it went from ‘there is no way we’re going to have gambling in Florida’ with the Republican Party even taking that position to now, when the state is looking for revenue, we’re considering anything.”

His former district, now represented by Sen. Anitere Flores and located west of downtown in the mostly suburban West Kendall area, voted 62-38 percent against allowing Miami Dade and Broward pari-mutuels to install slot machines in 2005 but supported them in 2008.

“The reason the support builds is really the economic downturn,’’ Moreno said. “In 2005, the economy was doing well and you had Bob Graham, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio come out against the expansion of gaming, it really had an effect. In 2008, when the economy starts going south, that was really the reason they were able to pass.”

Moreno also offered a series of so-called “push” questions, in which voters were read favorable statements about the casino and asked if it changed their minds.  The questions not only serve to elicit voter opinions, but educate votes about the point of view of the  bill’s sponsors.