When casinos come to town : how Iowa newspapers framed gambling expansion and the influence of these frames on citizens' approval or rejection of casinos in their counties
Between June 2003 and November 2004, residents in 15 Iowa counties participated in referenda that sought their approval of a measure that will allow the introduction of casino gambling in their counties. In eight of these counties, the measure failed; in the other seven, the measure passed. Because casino expansion has received considerable coverage throughout the state, this study asks whether the frames used by Iowa newspapers to report, interpret and explain the issue had something to do with these voting outcomes. Framing theory was used to analyze the results of a content analysis of the coverage of four newspapers that serve different Iowa counties one year preceding and one year following each county's casino referendum. The results show that the three most prominent frames used were the expansion debate, tax and economic frames, suggesting a tendency to construct the issue in financial terms. The other frames identified were the political debate, social cost, moral and revenue frames. The newspapers' coverage was characterized by heavy reliance on state and local politicians as information sources; pro-gambling activists were also cited frequently, drowning out the voices of anti-gambling activists. These information sources were the main agents of frame construction in the news. The opinion pieces were evenly split between those positive toward gambling (105) and those against it (105); the other 46 pieces were neutral toward the issue. This tone or orientation was found to significantly differ across the four newspapers and vary with the referenda outcomes in each of the four counties.