Tonganoxie residents speak out against casino
City council to discuss issue Monday night
The Delaware Tribe of Indians has set its sights on two tracks of land in Leavenworth County on which to construct a casino, according to the tribe's economic development director.
One parcel is about three miles east of Tonganoxie, on the north side of U.S. Highway 24-40. The other is along the Kansas Highway 7 corridor, just north of 24-40 highway.
"Those two spots are the ones that are highlighted," Michael Pace told about 125 people who gathered for a public hearing on the casino issue Tuesday night in the auditorium of Tonganoxie High School.
On Tuesday the first time since the possibility of a casino in Leavenworth County was raised in January Tonganoxie residents had an opportunity to express their views. About 25 people spoke against the tribe's plans for a casino, citing the social and moral costs associated with gambling.
Only two people said they thought a casino would be a benefit to Tonganoxie and Southern Leavenworth County.
That was about what Pace said he expected would happen.
"It was nothing that I didn't expect," he said following the 2 1/2 hour meeting. "But exceptions don't make the rule. Most of what they said did not apply to Indian gaming facilities."
Now that members of the Tonganoxie City Council have heard from citizens, it is likely they will discuss the matter at their next council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Monday.
Mayor John Franiuk said, however, that he believes council members would like to see a written proposal from the Delaware Tribe to consider. That would give council members something concrete to react to, the mayor said.
The tribe is seeking support from the city of Tonganoxie, as well as Leavenworth County, township boards and the city of Basehor, as tribal members begin to wind their way through the lengthy process of establishing a casino.
The Delaware tribe now is based in Bartlesville, Okla., but is hoping to purchase some of the land in Leavenworth County that the tribe had owned for about 30 years in the mid-1800s. But before a casino can be constructed, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs must agree to place any land in trust, and the tribe must obtain permission from the Kansas Legislature, as well as the governor.
Delaware Tribe members have said they would share some of the revenue generated by the $35 million to $40 million project that they say will generate between 400 and 800 new jobs.
Despite Pace's contention that the tribe's presence in Southern Leavenworth County would be a benefit to Tonganoxie, many in the audience Tuesday night disagreed.
"Even if you never gamble, you'll feel the effects of gambling," said Tonganoxie resident Ed O'Brien, who with his wife, Connie, has circulated petitions against the casino. The petitions have been forwarded to Gov. Bill Graves.
O'Brien urged elected officials to "resist the temptation for the fast bucks. Let's not gamble with the futures of our communities."
State Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, said he opposes gambling at all levels. As an elected official, he said he would feel responsibility for introducing addictive behavior to his constituents.
"This isn't a destination casino, where people are coming from out of the area," he said.
He urged Tonganoxie residents to maintain the city's high quality of life by turning down the casino proposal.
"I can't imagine this community wanting to change its character for the hope of a few uncertain dollars," Lyon said.
Other speakers cited problems they say come hand-in-hand with casinos: increases in crime, suicides, domestic violence, family debt, divorce rates, addicted children and adults, drunken driving and accidents, and poverty.
"People will take their new homes and nice families some place else," said Mike Waggoner, pastor at Victory Baptist Church.
And in the words of Tonganoxie resident Wayne Davidson, "It's just plain wrong. To say that gambling produces jobs is like saying the thief who breaks into a home is a self-employed businessman."
Richard Riedel, one of two people who spoke in favor of the casino, said he believed the development would create jobs. And Phyllis Shilling said she supports a casino.
"As casino is no different from any other form of entertainment," she said.