The creation of a new state position - almost immediately dubbed the "gambling czar" - seems to make sense for Kansas.
The state faces many challenges associated with implementing expanded gambling in the state, as approved by the Legislature earlier this year. The "Expanded Lottery Act" goes far beyond the current state lottery games to authorize state-owned casinos and slot machines at various locations around the state.
To ensure the clean, legal operation of these facilities, the state must place a high priority on regulation and oversight. To that end, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday asked the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission to appoint a "chief gaming officer" to oversee and administer expanded gambling in the state.
She further asked the gaming commission to choose Robert Krehbiel, a former legislator and member of the Kansas Corporation Commission, to fill that role. Because the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission is appointed by the governor, it seems likely her proposal will be favorably received and implemented.
Kansas is the first state to attempt a system of state-owned casinos, and there will be a steep learning curve on how to regulate such a system. It's essential for the state to keep a tight rein on new gaming operations, and strong regulation is the key.
Many issues must be worked through. Indian tribes already operating casinos in the state may challenge the constitutionality of the law. They are understandably concerned that the addition of up to four new casinos in the state could cut into their revenue. The plan calls for the state-owned casinos to be operated by private contractors, so it's imperative that proper regulations be in place to guide those operations.
The new "czar" actually will have a number of jobs, including coordinating efforts with the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission and serving as a liaison between the commission and the Kansas Lottery and to the Legislature about gaming issues. He or she will report both to the gaming commission and the governor's office.
It's a big job, and there is no time to waste. Voters in Wyandotte, Ford, Crawford, Cherokee and Sumner counties already have approved the development of state-owned casinos, and Sedgwick County is scheduled to vote next month. They all are eager to reap the economic benefits of expanded gaming and hope to have casinos in operation as soon as summer of 2009.
State legislators hope that expanded gambling will provide a much-needed financial boost not only for those counties but also for the state treasury. The revenue is a plus, but Kansans also are watching carefully to make sure any problems created by new gaming operations don't outweigh the benefits.
The Kansas gaming locomotive clearly is heading down the track and state regulators must make sure they are in the engineer's seat.