Wichita Wichita business owners are divided on whether bringing a casino to Sedgwick County would help or hurt local businesses.
And while a small but growing number are speaking out against the idea, some who oppose the casino say they won't publicly oppose the casino out of fear of alienating customers who support the idea.
Sedgwick County residents will vote Aug. 7 on whether to allow a casino in the county. A new gambling law permits state-owned casinos in Ford County, Wyandotte County, either Cherokee or Crawford counties, and either Sedgwick or Sumner counties.
A poll done in April by the Wichita Independent Business Association found half of the 610 respondents were opposed to a casino in Sedgwick County. Because of that split, neither the association nor the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce has taken a public stance on the issue.
Dick Coe, owner of Coe Financial Services, has publicly opposed the casino, which he believes will divert millions of dollars from local businesses every year. He said the suggestion that a casino will bring more tourists into the area is largely a myth.
A 2004 study by GVA Marquette Advisors, paid for by the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., projected that 76 percent of a Wichita casino's customers would live within 50 miles. And a 2004 study by Christian Capital Advisors estimated that 81 percent of the customers would live within 50 miles.
"We've got two months to get the word out, and I don't want us to have to pay the price for the rest of my lifetime because we lost a vote," Coe said.
Coe and others, such as Fred Berry of the Berry Cos., are trying to convince friends and others to vote against the casino.
They hope that if Sedgwick County voters reject a casino, developers will decide against putting one in Sumner County, which has a much smaller population. Even if developers build a casino in Sumner County, Coe said, fewer Wichitans would go to there to gamble.
The two are working with No Casinos in Sedgwick County, led by attorney Mark Kahrs, who said he expects most of his anti-casino campaign money to come from businesses.
Ted Morris, owner of the Crown Uptown dinner theater, has long warned that a casino would hurt local entertainment businesses, such as his, but said he wouldn't take a public role to defeat a casino.
The same goes for Thomas Etheredge, who just opened the Wild West World theme park.
Etheredge believes strongly that a casino would be bad for the community, but he won't publicly campaign against it.
"I will offend someone," he said. "I have strong beliefs about certain things and those are my beliefs. But my focus is to provide the finest in family entertainment. To do that, I have to be nondescript, middle-of-the-road and offend as few people as I can."