Kansas City, Kan. In a community where residents supported a nonbinding gambling referendum with 81 percent of the vote more than a decade ago, a local minister says even opponents are resigned to the probability that voters today will legalize a casino in Wyandotte County.
Since Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a gambling measure April 11 allowing state-owned casinos in Kansas, opposition to a possible casino in Wyandotte County has been almost nonexistent. There have been no gambling forums, no debates about gambling's economic benefits or social costs, and not even many yard signs imploring voters to keep casinos out of the county.
"I'm going to be preaching against it," said the Rev. Lynn Lamberty, senior pastor of University United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan. "But I'm not aware of any organized opposition. ... I may hand-make a sign to put in my yard because no one has made any."
But while the odds appear stacked in favor of casino supporters, members of Citizens for Gaming in Wyandotte County aren't taking anything for granted. The group has purchased newspaper ads, leased four billboards, printed 2,500 signs and operates a Web site.
"We know that when people think it's a done deal, sometimes they feel like they don't need to vote," said Cindy Cash, treasurer for the group and president of the Kansas City Kansas Area Chamber of Commerce. "That's why we need to remind them that they need to vote if this is what they want for the county."
Voters will answer two questions: Whether to install slot machines at the Woodlands race track and whether to build a state-owned casino somewhere in the county.
If the measures pass, the Woodlands hopes to get slot machines early next year, and the county could host a destination resort casino by 2010.
Wyandotte County dollars already are flowing across the state line to casinos in Kansas City, Mo., one of the reasons why many think passage today is a foregone conclusion. Supporters also say approval would retain jobs at the Woodlands, create 2,200 permanent casino jobs and add $8 million annually in property tax revenue and $7 million a year in gambling revenue.
In Wichita, which will have an Aug. 7 election on whether to approve a casino there, opposition is stronger and much better organized. Part of the reason is that casinos are not as accessible there as they are in Kansas City.
"I believe that the grass roots are really getting fired up," said Donna Lippoldt of Wichita, volunteer director of operations for No Casinos in Sedgwick County.
She said her group has contacted about 500 churches, purchased 5,000 yard signs and is making plans for advertising.
"We feel it's very possible that we will be able to defeat this," Lippoldt said.