The Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill this week allowing casinos
and slot machines. Lawmakers are betting that gaming will be a cash cow for
the state. If you listen to supporters, "destination" casinos will attract
people from around the region, and their money will boost the state and
local economies. That's enough to sway many legislators. What they're not
looking enough at, though, is how much the increased revenue will cost their
constituents. According to a 2004 study by GVA Marquette Advisors for the
Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and the Greater Wichita Convention and
Visitors Bureau, most participants of a casino in Sedgwick County would live
within a 50-mile radius of Wichita and would provide 75 percent of the
revenue. That money would likely come at the expense of other local
businesses. A study of gambling in Iowa by Loretta Fairchild and Amy
Stickney of Nebraska Wesleyan University and Jonathan Krutz of the Nebraska
Hospice Association showed that gambling has adverse effects on local
economies. Midsize Iowa cities that had casinos had an average growth of 0.7
percent, while cities that didn't have casinos grew 3.4 percent. Another
troubling aspect of casinos is ownership. Even though private entities would
run them, Kansas would be the only state to own casinos. What place does the
state have owning a business that offers so much collateral social damage?
The bill would allot 2 percent of an estimated $200 million in revenue for
addiction treatment. That's $4 million for the Sedgwick County area, and the
money would go first to Topeka, not the local area. That's a skimpy budget
considering the projected social cost. The 2004 local study estimated that
between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of adults "are susceptible to becoming a
pathological gambler." Projected on the metropolitan Wichita area, that
means that 5,000 to 8,000 people may become addicted.
The study estimated the social cost at $13,586 for each person, with an
annual burden on the community ranging from $71 million to $106 million. In
spite of these estimates, the study concluded that "while this community
social burden could be significant, its quantified estimate is still
surpassed by the positive economic impacts measured in this study."
That is a hard sell to families of the addicted.
A study in 2004 by Christiansen Capital Advisors for Harrah's found that 26
percent of players were contributing 82 percent of the profit. A similar
study commissioned by the state of Connecticut in 1997 found that nearly
one-third of gamblers interviewed at casinos were problem gamblers.
In other words, the industry feeds on addiction.
During the House debate, a tearful Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, recounted
the toll a gambling addiction took on a close relative. He convinced casino
supporters to add an amendment to ban the use of credit cards or ATMs within
the casinos and impose a weekly loss limit of $500.
But when the same legislators realized the restrictions might jeopardize
efforts to attract casino operators, they regrouped and removed the
The Senate is now preparing to debate the bill, which Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
supports. But let's hope the appeal of fast cash from casinos won't blind
legislators and Kansans to their negative effects.