Nearly 75 percent of likely Shore voters support sports gambling, while 57 percent of suburban voters do, the poll's results showed. Support is even throughout the state: 54 percent in favor in South Jersey, 52 percent in favor in North Jersey.
"The potential for economic benefit seems to overcome any possible doubts in the part of the state that should gain the most," said poll director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Atlantic City, battered by gambling competition in Pennsylvania, covets what Las Vegas has had exclusively since 1975 - single-game wagering on professional and collegiate sports. Supporters say sports betting could pump hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue into the Shore resort's casinos and four state racetracks.
But to get there, in addition to approval of the Nov. 8 referendum, state legislation limiting sports betting to the casinos and racetracks must be enacted, and a federal law that bans the activity in all but four states has to be repealed or overturned.
"While it amends the New Jersey Constitution, this ballot measure will not have any practical effect unless the federal government lifts its ban on sports betting," Redlawsk said.
Only Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware had some form of sports betting before Congress enacted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which banned it everywhere else. Delaware had parlay betting on NFL games and fought to offer single-game wagering two years ago, but the effort was quashed in the courts.
The federal law granted New Jersey a two-year window to adopt sports betting, but a 1993 bill never made it through the Legislature.
Under proposed legislation now alive in Trenton, wagering would not be allowed on any New Jersey collegiate teams or on any college teams playing in New Jersey.
Las Vegas tourism officials say that while sports betting makes up only a tiny fraction of the Strip's annual gambling revenue - less than 2 percent - every hotel room in town is booked for Super Bowl weekend and the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four. Supporters want the same for ailing Atlantic City.
"Sports betting can transform Atlantic City from a gambling site to a tourist destination, and attract much-needed new investment to change a tired city into a vibrant one," said State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union), who filed a lawsuit two years ago to overturn the federal ban and is the leading proponent in the Legislature for sports betting.
The poll, conducted Oct. 6-9 among 903 adults, included a sample of 821 registered voters and 603 likely voters.
It found that more than six in 10 men and 54 percent of likely female voters support legalized sports betting. About 72 percent of younger likely voters support it, while 23 percent are opposed.
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594