Young professionals band together to oppose Wichita casino 7-07

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A group of about 500 young professionals dubbed We Believe in Wichita on July 13, kicked off a campaign against proposed casino gambling in the city, saying such a venture would "cannibalize the local economy."

People "may have expected that this particular audience would be for a casino," said organizer Jon Rolph, executive vice president of Carlos O'Kelly's, founded by his family. "We are a progressive age group by nature."

Sedgwick County voters will go to the polls Aug. 7 to weigh in on a referendum to allow a casino in the county and slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. Voters in Ford, Wyandotte, Crawford, Sumner and Cherokee counties already have approved gambling measures - most by overwhelming margins.

But the 20-somethings standing behind Rolph on July 13, say a casino would be "a step back for our city."

In April, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a law that permits lottery-owned casinos in four areas - Ford County, Wyandotte County, either Cherokee or Crawford county, and either Sedgwick or Sumner county. The law also permits slot machines at race tracks in Kansas City, Wichita and Frontenac.

A county's voters must approve any new gambling.

Ryan Bond, who said he and his wife moved to Wichita from St. Louis two years ago, said casinos only succeed and benefit the economy if they are destination venues.

But members of We Believe in Wichita and a different group called No Casinos in Sedgwick County believe most of a casino's customers would come from within 50 miles.

"We want Wichita's money to stay in Wichita," Bond said.

Proponents of a casino in the county say money already is leaving Wichita as gamblers go to the Indian casinos near Topeka, or out of state to Oklahoma and Missouri.

Opponents said July 13, that the city would have to hire more officers if a casino were built there. They also said they are concerned that a casino would result in increased crime and gambling addiction.

The Kansas Lottery will own the casinos, but private companies will build and manage them, an arrangement supporters believe will comply with the Kansas Constitution, which permits a state-owned and operated lottery but not privately owned, non-tribal casinos.