Archive for Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs: In this case, it’s not refundable

February 4, 2004

It appears that in the future, at least if Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has her way, Kansas may be leaning more and more heavily on gambling to prop up the state's budget.

If approved, her plan would allow a limited number of large "world-class destination casinos" in Kansas. And, because of the growing popularity of western Wyandotte County, with the Kansas Speedway and other tourist draws, it's likely that Tonganoxie residents would find a casino just a 10-minute drive from home.

The governor's plan would allow for local control, with county residents getting to vote on whether these casinos would be allowed in their county.

In addition, the Expanded Gaming Opportunity Act would authorize the Kansas Lottery to place and control up to 2,500 video lottery terminals at the five existing pari-mutuel tracks in Kansas. And, the plan would authorize the Kansas Lottery to place a limited number of video lottery terminals at qualified veterans and fraternal organizations.

Sebelius is quoted in a Friday press release as saying: "Many Kansans will benefit from this plan. I intend to direct a substantial portion of these funds towards scholarships for deserving Kansas high school seniors. This will allow thousands of Kansas students to afford post-secondary education, which, as we know, is vital in our new economy."

Our economy may be "new," but it's obvious that the state's benefiting from gambling is old hat. Take the lottery, for instance.

According to the Kansas Lottery Commission's Web site, from November 1987 through June 2003, the Kansas lottery transferred $704,206,185 to the state of Kansas.

In Fiscal Year 2003, the state's budget for the distribution of lottery funds included:

  • Department of Commerce and Housing: $19,353,185.
    ¢ Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation: $12,207,251.
    ¢ Board of Regents: $9,367,660.
    ¢ State Water Plan Fund: $2,000,000.

In looking at the vast amount of money poured into, and out of, the Kansas Lottery Fund, I get an edgy feeling that, when it comes to helping out the Sunflower State's coffers, I haven't been doing my fair share.

Of that $704 million made by the lottery, my contributions during that 15-year time frame totaled about $3. I think I purchased a lottery ticket back in the late 1980s just to see how it worked, and perhaps a couple more later on when the jackpots were sky high.

So clearly, somewhere out there, someone else has been far more generous than I.

Has the burden of supporting the Kansas lottery placed a hardship on these dutiful chance-buyers? Of course there are the responsible buyers who know what they're doing and know how much they can afford to spend for the dream of winning a jackpot. But what about the others?

At an area convenience store recently, a woman ahead of me dug in her purse to come up with money for a lottery ticket. She finally resorted to taking coins out of the penny cup on the counter to come up with enough cash.

Another time, the line at a local convenience store stalled as customers waited for the clerk -- the only employee in the store at the time -- to finish tallying up the lottery tickets she had just bought for herself.

When seeing things such as this, one wonders: Is the lottery really such a good idea when it comes to helping people who may not be able to help themselves?

Put your mind at ease -- the state has thought of that, too.

The 2000 Kansas Legislature established a problem gambling help line. And you guessed it, it's financed by annual "contributions" of $20,000 from the Bingo Regulation Fund and $80,000 from the State Gaming Revenues Fund.

If a revenue maker for the state requires its own help line for the people who can't help but overuse it -- even if it is a cash cow -- in the long run, at the personal level, is it really that good of a deal?

After weighing the pros and cons, I'm not so sure. In fact I'm beginning to regret ever having purchased a lottery ticket at all.

Think I could talk the Kansas Lottery Commission into giving me my $3 back?

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