For the past few years, as New Jersey's finances have crumbled, one by one a state senator (Ray Lesniak), then the state legislature, then the citizens of the Garden State and finally the governor himself decided sports betting could help fix things. Along the way, the people who run the PublicMind Poll at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., have been asking folks their opinions of sports betting.
At first, the polls focused on people within the state of New Jersey, and the longer local pols pushed for legislation, the more favorable the idea of legalized wagering on sports became. Eventually, folks acted on that by voting for it on a ballot referendum. Recently, as New Jersey takes its case to the federal courts and tries to get the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act that prohibits nationwide gambling overturned, the PublicMind pollsters have broadened their reach.
Last Friday, they released their latest findings: Using a random sampling of 814 registered voters nationwide who were called between Dec. 10 and Dec. 16, PublicMind concluded that 51 percent of Americans favor legalized sports betting. Meanwhile, 33 percent answered that it shouldn't be legalized, 4 percent said neither, 11 percent were unsure and the rest were too scared to answer the question. The poll had a margin of error of +/-3.4 points.
"These national figures are similar to what we've seen in our recent polls of New Jersey voters," poll director and FDU prof Krista Jenkins said in news release that came out last week.
There are many interesting facts to be gleaned from the data. For one, public opinion on this subject is changing rapidly. The last time the poll was conducted, in 2010, only 39 percent of respondents felt sports betting should be legalized. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. I'm not making a political statement or judgment here, but since 2010, smoking marijuana has become legal in multiple states and the president has spoken out in favor of gay marriage. Culturally, a lot of the things that used to scare us don't anymore. Sports betting is slowly getting one of those "It's already happening in some form so what are we trying to legislate exactly?" vibes.
If you dig deeper into the survey, this was evident in how the answers were split along party lines. Democrats favored legalization at a 52 percent clip, Independents 56 percent and Republicans 48 percent. Same with race. The poll showed 52 percent of whites wanting legalized sports betting and 51 percent of non-whites wanting it. In the age groups, not surprisingly, the youngsters favored it in big numbers (62 percent amongst 18- to 29-year-olds and 61 percent for 30- to 44-year-olds). Fifty-two percent of 45- to 59-year-olds said yes, while only 40 percent of people 60 and older think it should happen.
Perhaps most interesting, after nearly a generation of bettors having been raised on Internet betting -- probably the main reason people fear gambling less than ever before -- only 27 percent of respondents wanted to legalize online betting.
"It's a crapshoot," Jenkins said in the release. Kind of like getting the federal ban overturned.
Here is a little more data that I find interesting. This week on my podcast, Todd Fuhrman of Don Best Sports in Las Vegas laid this knowledge on me (this was early in the show, before he subtly ripped me for my performance in the Las Vegas Hotel SuperContest this year): This season, just betting underdogs blindly, you would have won 52 percent of the time. Obviously, that is not all that swell, since you need to win slightly more than that to show a profit when betting with standard, 10 percent juice.