"I'm not aware of anybody in Kansas government right now that's well-versed on casino management, so we're running on a pretty steep learning curve," said Ed Van Petten, director of the Kansas Lottery.
Given that operating racetracks and casinos doesn't seem like a particularly good business for an amateur, Kansas residents have good reason to carefully watch the progress of Van Petten and his office.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers agreed to make Kansas the only state in the nation to own casinos. The gambling operations were attached to the Kansas Lottery in part to avoid the need for a constitutional amendment to authorize expanded gaming. Although the state is required by its constitution to own the gaming operations, they will be privately developed and managed.
The legality of that move is expected to be tested in court by one of a number of parties. Gambling opponents or Indian tribes that already operate casinos in the state may challenge the law, or Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison may file the challenge himself to expedite the process.
The legal wrangling will buy the state lottery a little time to get up to speed on casino operations, but residents in some parts of the state are eager to push forward with what they see as a great economic development opportunity. For instance, Cherokee County in southeast Kansas will vote on June 5 whether to allow a state-owned casino and hotel complex to be built there. Cherokee County is one of four sites in the state authorized to pursue gambling operations.
For Kansans concerned about the potential for corruption in casino operations, state ownership has some advantages because it gives the state direct oversight of the casinos and their operation.
However, that oversight is only an advantage if the state overseers know what they are doing, which brings us back to Van Petten's steep learning curve. Casino gaming is a high-stakes business for operators as well as individual gamblers. There is the potential for big profits or big losses, which presents an ongoing temptation for operators to engage in illegal or unethical conduct or business practices.
As noted above, it's not a game for amateurs, so it's imperative for state regulators to make sure they gain some professional expertise before they unleash casino gambling operations on Kansas.