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Eagle editorial: Casino hitting jackpot

  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at 5:17 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at 5:17 p.m.

Even with its first birthday still a few days away, the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane can celebrate an unequivocally strong start, with its $158.8 million in earnings through October eclipsing the performance of both the Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City and the Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kan.

The Kansas Star, now operated by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, opened part of its permanent facility Wednesday and will have the rest open Dec. 21, including 1,829 slot machines, 45 table games, a large poker room and five restaurants.

The attraction’s impressive success won’t change the minds of critics of the 2007 law that allowed state-owned destination casinos in Dodge City and Wyandotte County as well as south-central Kansas (a fourth casino spot in southeast Kansas hasn’t had any takers).

There hasn’t been much talk of social or public-safety costs so far, though officials have noted more traffic and accidents. As Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan told county commissioners Wednesday, it takes three to five years for local governments to feel the full effect of gaming on citizens.

And Kansas found with greyhound and horse racing that enthusiasm for gambling can burn out.

But the Kansas Star has more than confirmed research predicting the market would be strong for a Wichita-area casino, as it’s provided 1,000 jobs, more than $121 million in construction contracts, and generous support for area charities and Sumner County schools.

The promises of tax relief are being realized, too, with Mulvane and Sumner County having reduced property taxes by a whopping 10 and 27 percent, respectively.

Though Sedgwick County voters rejected a casino in 2007, the law guaranteed the county would benefit anyway. Through October it had seen $1.5 million in gaming revenue, which has softened some of the impact of tough budget balancing and will be handy going forward.

It would be nice to know how many of the dollars in Kansas Star revenue are coming out of area residents’ pockets, and how many are from out-of-staters drawn off the Kansas Turnpike by the casino’s attention-grabbing sign and imposing footprint. (Casino officials say they don’t have such research, though the casino has Lucky Star Players Club members from all 50 states and nine different countries.)

In any case, the Sedgwick County commissioners’ concerns are well-founded about the state diverting dollars from the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. County Commissioner Jim Skelton raised the issue Wednesday, as commissioners added the priority to the county’s 2013 legislative agenda.

Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers should take the problem-gambling earmark seriously and not divert those dollars for other purposes and push addiction-related costs onto local governments.

To its credit, the Kansas Star is delivering on the predictions of jobs and state and local revenue. In return, the state should keep its promise to help problem gamblers.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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