Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
At a time when some states are considering getting out of the gambling business by privatizing their lotteries, Kansas is moving in the opposite direction. Kansas is about to become the first state to own casinos.
After years of debate, the legislature passed a law to allow four casinos in different regions of the state, along with thousands of slot machines at racetracks. Since Kansas residents have been traveling to neighboring casinos in Oklahoma and Missouri, state officials decided that it was smart to collect a bit of the upside. They are already coping with the problems of some residents overdoing it at the nearby gaming tables.
"There's certainly the feeling that Kansas is missing out on potential revenue that is going to other states," says Sally Lunsford, director of communications for the Kansas lottery. Not everyone believes that the new casinos will prove a boon. In August, voters in Sedgwick County (Wichita) turned down a casino in their community, which instead will be built in neighboring Sumner County.
The state Supreme Court refused to hear a preemptive challenge to the casino law, but its constitutionality remains in question. The Kansas constitution limits casino ownership to the state itself (except for Indian tribes on federal land). Critics of the new law say it violates the constitution, since the state will be, in essence, a silent partner in casino operations, collecting a fixed percentage of revenues from private contractors. "It's not state owned and operated," argues state Senator Phil Journey. "We're not going to own the land, we're not going to own the building, we're not going to write the employee handbooks."