Gambling’s losers must not be forgotten
The Kansas Legislature agreed last week to tap the resource of casino gambling. After long debate and many failed attempts, the Legislature passed a bill, which Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has promised to sign, to allow slot machines in the state's failing horse and dog tracks and the eventual construction of four casinos.
Although the casino managers will tell us they offer an "entertainment experience," lawmakers are not jumping into the casino business because they were concerned Kansans don't have enough to do when visiting Wyandotte County, Wichita, Dodge City and Independence.
Supporters maintain the measure will eventually mean $200 million in annual revenue to the state, which could be used to defer maintenance at the state's regent universities, public education and highways.
Supporters argued the state was letting those dollars go to Missouri, Oklahoma and to three Native American casinos in Jackson and Brown counties who pay no taxes (and who are already threatening a lawsuit to protect their market share).
The bill is in essence a way to get residents to pay taxes with a smile, just as the Kansas Lottery is. It will be a rare gambler who considers the amount of the wager going to the state when sitting before a slot machine.
Those Kansans who don't gamble because they view it as a loser's preoccupation are the winners, except -- as those who oppose gaming on moral grounds point out -- there will be social costs. An increased availability of gaming will mean an increase in that percentage of gamblers for whom risk is not entertainment but a compulsion and who are unable to stop themselves from staking their and their families' futures on the roll of the dice, the shuffle of a deck or the digital permutations of a slot machine. It will mean more bankruptcies, broken marriages and suicides (compulsive gamblers are 18 percent more likely to kill themselves than the general population).
The bill did set aside 2 percent of the revenue for outreach to problem gamblers. Those programs, it's not hard to imagine, will receive about the same percentage of promotion compared to that of the new casinos.
It appears the state has agreed to further sanction gambling. In doing so, it should be committed to taking real steps to help victims of gambling -- who will be, like many with addictions, too often viewed as suffering from character flaw rather than a real condition -- rather than conscious-easy lip-service programs.