NEWS

Kent Bush: Casinos promise profit, bring problems

Kent Bush

Nothing is more intoxicating than the promise of free money. And the fools that drink it in are never ready for the hangover after the false promise becomes reality.

Many in Sedgwick County, including the mayor of Wichita, think the county "blew it" when they voted against locating a "destination casino" within their borders. Sumner County voters took the bait and now some Wichitans are green with envy over the big money that is promised to flood the neighboring county after construction is complete.

I know the economics. A huge shiny building that is full most of the time with people throwing money away to the profit of the casino and helping fill the county's coffers with ill-gotten gains. Sumner County is expecting to double their annual revenue. But no one counts the cost.

Shirley Chisholm, a member of Congress from New York during the 1970s, once said, "When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses."

Leaders spend millions of dollars each year to increase public safety. But when casinos promise big money, those same leaders become anxious accomplices in devastating families and businesses under their supervision.

Certainly there are many people who go to casinos for concerts or are infrequent visitors who enjoy gambling as a form of casual entertainment. For those people, the casino is an adult playground. For many others, it becomes a prison.

In my hometown, there was a great guy who was the director of the local YMCA. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and a leader in several areas of the city. But as Indian casinos in Oklahoma became more prevalent, he became more addicted. When his family's money ran low, he began "prepaying" himself to support this new habit. He spent most nights away from his wife and two young daughters in pursuit of the addiction that could never be satisfied.

"I remember a time when I took a thousand dollars to a casino and was up more than thirty thousand when I left," McAdoo said. "I started home, but I made an illegal u-turn on the interstate and went back to the casino. I had lost it all, including the first thousand, before I left again."

He could have gotten himself out of debt and back on track if he could have just made it home and made good on his "prepayments."

But the windfall for the Indian tribes was the whirlpool that sucked him back in.

"I won a lot of money in casinos," he said. "But I never left one with a dime."

He was finally caught embezzling from the YMCA and fired. The organization never recovered from the loss of money and public confidence and soon became an affiliate of the Oklahoma City YMCA and lost local control.

Sumner County will gain a lot of money when the casino's doors are flung open - but at what cost? How many families can be destroyed before it isn't worth the money? How much can property crime increase before the impact on quality of life is too great?

Sedgwick County voters may have missed the boat on a "destination casino," but they can sleep at night knowing they didn't sacrifice their neighbors on the altar of greed.

As the Apostle Mark wrote, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

In a few years, Sumner County residents will be able to answer that question from experience.

Augusta Gazette