Like the studies and Sumner County vote that preceded it, the crowd of thousands greeting the Kansas Star Casino’s opening Monday signaled a strong pent-up area demand for a destination casino. And there is no disputing the need for its jobs.
The casino is employing 500, with plans to hire 300 more.
After the final phases open, with a hotel and arena, the Kansas Star also should fill the need regionally for a facility suitable for large equestrian events.
There is some disbelief in seeing a destination casino open at all in south-central Kansas, given all the drama and false starts that came first: The 15-year legislative standoff over casino gaming. The mishandled 2007 passage of the law allowing four state-owned casinos under the Kansas Lottery, and the efforts of area legislators to deny local voters any chance of landing a casino. The Sedgwick-or-Sumner uncertainty. The Wellington-or-Mulvane fight. Mulvane’s successful legal battle to annex the site. And the comings and goings of big-name potential developers Harrah’s, MGM Mirage and Foxwoods amid a crushing recession.
Now, finally, there is a facility convenient to area gamblers, and able to curb the flow of dollars to tribal and out-of-state casinos. The state estimates that it will receive $147.1 million from the casino in fiscal 2013, while Sumner and Sedgwick counties and Mulvane each see $1.47 million from it. Plus, Peninsula Gaming will contribute $1.5 million annually to an education fund for the school districts in Sumner County and Mulvane.
A successful opening is no guarantee of the future, of course. Wichita Greyhound Park drew 4,540 people to its opening night in September 1989 and 842,000 people over its first year, for example, but was losing $2.5 million annually by the time owner Phil Ruffin closed it in October 2007.
Any casino spells trouble for some problem gamblers; it’s sobering that 58 people have signed up under the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission’s voluntary exclusion program.
And bitter feelings surely remain in Wellington, which fought so hard in Topeka for a south-central Kansas casino, only to see it built closer to the Sumner-Sedgwick county line and populous Wichita.
Even so, the opening of the Kansas Star is a win not only for those employed there but for Sumner County. That’s where, in late 2005, 63 percent of voters in an advisory election said they favored a casino.
Because they spoke, and their leaders persevered in Topeka, south-central Kansas now has a casino. Whatever one thinks about gambling, Monday’s opening looked like an enthusiastic welcome.