Tag Archives: Wichita Downtown Development Corporation

Consider carefully all costs of gambling in Wichita

In a free society dedicated to personal liberty, people should be able to gamble. But that’s not what we have, as in a free society dedicated to personal liberty, people wouldn’t be taxed to pay for the problems that others cause in the pursuit of their happiness.

How does this relate to the issue of casino gambling in or near Wichita?

There is a document titled “Economic & Social Impact Anlaysis [sic] For A Proposed Casino & Hotel” created by GVA Marquette Advisors for the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, dated April 2004. This document presents a lot of information about the benefits and the costs of gambling in the Wichita area. One of their presentations of data concludes that the average cost per pathological gambler is $13,586 per year. Quoting from the study in the section titled Social Impact VII-9: “Most studies conclude that nationally between 1.0 and 1.5 percent of adults are susceptible to becoming a pathological gambler. Applying this statistic to the 521,000 adults projected to live within 50 miles of Wichita in 2008, the community could eventually have between 5,200 and 7,800 pathological gamblers. At a cost of $13,586 in social costs for each, the annual burden on the community could range between $71 and $106 million.”

If all we had to do was to pay that amount each year in money that would be one thing. But the components of the cost of pathological gamblers include, according to the same study, increased crime and family costs. In other words, people are hurt, physically and emotionally, by pathological gamblers. Often the people who are harmed are those who have no option to leave the gambler, such as children.

Quoting again from the study: “While this community social burden could be significant, its quantified estimate is still surpassed by the positive economic impacts measured in this study.” The largest components of the positive economic impacts are employee wages, additional earnings in the county, and state casino revenue share, along with some minor elements. Together these total $142 million, which is, as the authors point out, larger than the projected costs shown above. But this analysis is flawed. Employee wages don’t go towards paying the costs of pathological gamblers, as employees probably want to spend their wages on other things. And the state casino revenue share is supposed to go towards schools.

The absurdity mounts as we realize that gambling is promoted, by none other than Governor Kathleen Sebelius, as a way to raise money for schools. Often the figure quoted for the amount of money gambling would generate for the state is $150 million per year. But here is a study concluding that the monetary costs to just the Wichita area would be a large fraction of that, and when you add the human misery, it just doesn’t make sense to fund schools with revenue from gambling.

Gambling for education

In a free society dedicated to personal liberty, people should be able to gamble.

With gambling, though, there are fairly predictable costs that arise. Because of the variety of social services that our government provides, many of these costs are borne by the public as a whole. In other words, allowing people the freedom to gamble also means that many others must pay to clean up the mess that some will make of their lives. This cost outweighs the benefit of the freedom to gamble. If we could isolate the harm that problem gamblers cause so that everyone else wouldn’t have to pay to fix it, that would be a different matter.

Even if we could isolate the harm from gambling to those who choose to gamble, innocent victims are harmed — the children of pathological gamblers, for example.

Those who wish to gamble should be able to do so, then, if the harm the problem gamblers cause can be contained. But our state provides so many social services that containing the cost is likely impossible.

If we are to allow gambling in Kansas, we should not tax it in the way being proposed. Why? If casinos in Kansas are successful, they will generate a lot of tax revenue. The government becomes dependent on that tax revenue, and thereby forms a de facto partnership with the casinos. It will be in the state’s interest to have more gambling. The state will likely advertise and promote the casinos, just as it advertises and promotes the Kansas lottery.

We should also keep in mind that the amount it seems like casinos might generate ($150 million per year is a figure I often hear) is a relatively small amount. Kansas tax revenue for fiscal 2005 was $4,632.5 million, so revenue from casino taxes might be about 3.2% of total Kansas tax revenue. But the real percentage is even less, as total spending by the state that year was over $10,813 million, so the amount raised from gambling is less than 1.4% of Kansas total spending. The incremental gain — what really matters — is even less, as much if not all of the money spent gambling is money that would have been spent elsewhere, likely generating tax revenue for the state there.

Of course, this money is for the children, as casino advocates say. We must have casino gambling so that our children can be properly educated, they say. But money is fungible. To say that money arising from a specific source only benefits a given cause is illusory. It makes as much sense as saying the money I earn on Monday and Tuesday goes to the mortgage payment, the money earned on Wednesday for food, Thursday for retirement, etc.

So the real question, then, is do we want to unleash on this state the problems of casino gambling for the vanishingly small benefits it may bring? That is, if we can somehow control and contain its social costs? For me, the answer is “no.”

Some Research on Gambling

If you are interested, a good article to read is an excerpt from The Business-Economic Impacts of Licensed Casino Gambling in West Virginia: Short-Term Gain but Long-Term Pain. Some quotes:

From a business-economic perspective, the main issue involved in legalizing various forms of gambling is whether gambling activities constitute a valid strategy for economic development. While the dollars invested in various legalized gambling projects and the jobs initially created are evident, the industry has been criticized for inflating the positive economic impacts and trivializing or ignoring the negative impacts (Goodman 1994). The industry’s tendency to focus on specialized factors provides a distorted view of the localized economic positives, while ignoring the strategic business-economic costs to the state as a whole (such as West Virginia) and to different regions of the United States (California Governor’s Office 1992, Kindt 1995). In 1994, all of the various experts who testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business criticized the impacts that casino-style gambling activities inflict upon the criminal justice system, the social welfare, system, small businesses, and the economy (Congressional Hearing 1994). Utilizing legalized gambling activities as a strategy for economic development was thoroughly discredited during the hearing.

In recent economic history, legalized gambling activities have been directly and indirectly subsidized by the taxpayers. The field research throughout the nation indicates that for every dollar the legalized gambling interests indicate is being contributed in taxes, it usually costs the taxpayers at least 3 dollars– and higher numbers have been calculated (Politzer, Morrow and Leavey 1981; Better Government Association 1992; Florida Budget Office 1994). These costs to taxpayers are reflected in: (1) infrastructure costs, (2) relatively high regulatory costs, (3) expenses to the criminal justice system, and (4) large social-welfare costs (Illinois Governor’s Office 1992). Accordingly, several state legislators (e.g., in South Dakota) have called for at least partially internalizing these external costs by taxing all legalized gambling activities at a straight 50 percent tax rate.

Specifically regarding education, which is a driving force for considering gambling at this moment.

Gambling activities and the gambling philosophy are directly opposed to sound business principles and economic development. Legalized gambling activities also negatively affect education– both philosophically and fiscally (Better Government Association 1992; Clotfelter and Cook 1989). Adherence to a philosophy of making a living via gambling activities not only abrogates the perceived need for an education, but also reinforces economically unproductive activities (and is statistically impossible since the “house” always wins eventually). In states with legalized gambling activities which were initiated allegedly to bolster tax revenues to “education,” the funding in “real dollars” has almost uniformly decreased.

From the conclusion:

Increasingly, taxpayers and businesses are beginning to realize that, as Professor Jack Van Der Slik has summarized for much of the academic community, state-sponsored gambling “produces no product, no new wealth, and so it makes no genuine contribution to economic development” (Van Der Slik 1990). Business-economic history supports this proposition. The recriminalization of gambling activities occurred 100 years ago after a brief gambling boom following the Civil War. Most state legislatures utilized constitutional provisions to recriminalize gambling, because lawmakers wanted to make it as difficult as possible for future generations to experiment with the classic “boom and bust” cycles and the concomitant socioeconomic negatives occasioned by legalized gambling activities. To paraphrase Georg Hegel’s common quote, “those who forget the lessons of economic history are condemned to relive them” (Bartlett 1968).

Even the supporters of gambling concede there are social costs. In a report prepared for the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and avaible to read by clicking here, we read: “At a cost of $13,586 in social costs for each [pathological gambler], the annual burden on the community could range between $71 and $106 million.” Of course, these costs are offset by benefits, the study says. These costs are not just dollar costs, however. They are human costs paid in suffering, often by innocent family members of the problem gamblers.

Politicians’ Confusing Attitudes Towards Gambling

The attitude of some politicians is quite confusing. For example, as reported in The Wichita Eagle on June 16, 2005, regarding Senator Donald Betts:

Sen. Donald Betts, a Wichita Democrat, said he is aware of gambling’s social impact, having grown up in Las Vegas.

“Beyond the neon, there was a grim reality of what gambling does to a community,” he said.

Still, he said, he likely would support a gambling bill if it is brought up next week.

“In my district, I believe it’s a lot better choice than increasing taxes,” Betts said. “My constituents are calling me and asking me, when are we going to get the casinos?”

(If I were as clever as Rush Limbaugh, I suppose I might make some crack about what a guy named Betts thinks about gambling.)

There are other examples of politicians saying they know there is a downside to gambling, but we’re going to have it anyway, they say.

Sedgwick County Arena Sales Tax Ready to Pass

Following is a message from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network, regarding the debate over SB 58, allowing Sedgwick County to raise its sales tax to pay for the downtown Wichita arena. I listened to the (as Karl rightly characterises it) “debate.” Karl’s reporting of the legislative action and the effects the sales tax will have is accurate. (Someone called the sales tax the “Western Butler County Improvement Act.”)


After a relatively brief and lackluster debate, the 1 cent sales tax hike for the downtown arena in Wichita received preliminary approval in the Kansas house March 21 on a voice vote. SB 58 will be voted upon for final action tomorrow in the Kansas House of Representatives. This odious bill should have been amended but a bipartisan group of Wichita legislators worked hard and were successful in keeping it “clean” so there weren’t any amendments. An amendment would have required a conference committee and a delay in enacting this tax. SB 58 will be passed easily and signed by the governor within the next couple of weeks.

The closest amendment to getting added to this bill was a “prevailing wage,” amendment offered by Democrat Minority Leader McKinney that failed on a division vote (no roll call) with over 40 yes votes. Prevailing wage would require union wages for the construction of this project but even the Democrats did not press this very hard since they did not even bother forcing a roll call vote on this amendment.

After some desultory comments by proponents, Rep. Huebert offered an amendment to address the uniformity issue but then withdrew it following Rep. Wilk’s opposition and promise that the tax committee that Wilk chairs would take up this issue shortly.

Your tax dollars were hard at work lobbying. Two tax funded lobbyists from Sedgwick County along with Sen. Carolyn McGinn were there to follow the vote. Wichita had its contract lobbyist as well as city employee Jeanne Goodvin was there. Other tax funded organizations like Ed Wolverton from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Bob Hanson from the Sports Commission, and another sports commission board member Joe Johnston had lobbied the house members as they entered the chamber. A number of other business and labor lobbyists supporting the arena were also monitoring the desultory debate.

Huebert was the only member to oppose the bill during this “debate.” Steve spoke about his district’s opposition (2-to-1) and how this vote, where the county segment was opposed while the Wichita area was supportive (both voted 54-46 on their respective sides last November) might relate to a consolidation of government bill in Shawnee County’s vote on their city-county consolidation issue. The retroactive tax authorization WAS NOT EVEN MENTIONED in the debate.

Steve Brunk, who serves on the tax committee, “carried” the bill on the floor. Mario Goico, Brenda Landwehr, Jo Ann Pottorff, and Nile Dillmore all praised this measure in a form of Sedgwick County bipartisanship. Goico liked the eco-devo aspect while Pottorff praised the downtown revitalization with the waterwalk boondoggle for economic growth.

I have been told privately that there has been commitments for vote trading on this issue and other issues coming before the house that are of concern to non-Sedgwick County legislators. While there will certainly be a number of no votes cast on final action tomorrow, the final outcome is now clear. July 1 the sales tax rate in Sedgwick County will rise to 7.3% with the exception of Derby where it will rise to 7.8%. In a couple of years there will be a brand new pigeon coop, that lacks an anchor tenant, in downtown Wichita to add to the succession of money losing boondoggles that already litter the area.

If the Senator Hensley’s of the world prevail (he is the senate minority leader who issued his statewide tax hike plan last week), the 2005 legislature will soon pass a statewide sales tax hike and he would add at least another .2% to the figures cited in the previous sentence. The governor favors a statewide tax hike and there is talk of “rounding up” to say, an even 6 percent statewide. If that happens, there are parts of this state that will have total (state and local)sales tax rates approaching 10 percent.

The new millionaires who will be created through the prices the county will pay for the land it wants downtown for this boondoggle project will provide an interesting (but expensive) source of amusement in the near future too. It will also be interesting to see what portion of the construction labor used is “union” versus non union. Dale Swenson praised prevailing wage and other mandatory union wage rates like the federal government’s Davis-Bacon Act during the debate on that amendment.

As a frame of reference, New York City has a 8.625% sales tax rate. New York City does NOT tax groceries. I’ll let you decide, regardless of whether Kansas raises state rates or not, how we compare with a sales tax rate of 7.3%-or as much as-8.0%. If one of the tax raising legislators had not taken ill in the senate, the odds of a statewide tax hike raising the sales tax to 6.0% is not out of the question. Sedgwick County will have a high sales tax rate.

The only suggestion for Sedgwick County taxpayers that I can think of is that most of the cities in Butler County only have a 1/2 cent local sales tax, so their total is 5.8%. If you live in eastern Sedgwick County and want to save on grocery purchases, there is a Dillons at Andover Road and Kellogg. You should be able to save $1.50 on the purchase of $100 worth of groceries after July 1 based upon the variable local sales tax rates between Sedgwick and Butler counties.

I look forward to fulfilling my promise and including the recorded vote on final passage of SB 58 into the 2005 Kansas Taxpayers Network’s vote rating. Every legislator who cast an affirmative vote for SB 58 will have to bear some responsiblity for this looming boondoggle. The next battle will be trying to get this odious sales tax removed because a fiscal “crisis” in government will certainly appear before this tax expires. Rep. Huy was absent.