To its backers, casino gambling would bring Dodge City full circle back to its early frontier years when gambling was part of what made Dodge City ... well, Dodge City. To casino opponents, gambling will bring in crime and lead to the break up of families.
On spending even a short time in Dodge (as locals call it), you immediately can see its split personality.
On the one hand, it's a working class city with enormous feed lots, two of the largest beef packing houses in the world, and other industries related to turning cattle into steak and hamburger.
There's also a large Hispanic population (12,000 out of the County's 32,000 people), important not just to the work force, but to keeping downtown alive.
[I'm adding a separate post about some of Dodge City's fasincating history]
As innkeeper Kurt Scadden, an ardent "Vote Yes" (for casino gambling) supporter, told me, he's had visitors from as far as Japan visit Dodge because they've loved Gunsmoke.
Unfortunately, this movie and television connection is starting to fade, as Gunsmoke is no longer in reruns.
I spent time touring Dodge with Bob Wetmore, President & CEO of the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce. Not surprisingly, Bob is a backer of the casino measure. As he told me, "a lot of retail businesses and franchises are waiting in the wings" for the casino and convention center.
The Chamber -- through its 10 year old "Why Not Dodge?" campaign -- has had its eyes on getting a "multi-purpose events" center for the city. It's succeeded with other major items on its agenda -- such as building a baseball/softball complex and opening a new racing facility (I just missed the World of Outlaws event). But Bob feels that the casino will bring in the visitors needed to make the events center a reality.
For Bob, the reintroduction of gambling makes sense both economically and historically. "If this used to be the end of the trail, why can't we be 'Old West, New Excitement,' " Bob told me. The casino would also pour revenue directly into both Dodge City and Ford County's coffers (the vote must pass countywide).
Another potential plus from a casino would be new life for downtown. Right now, there's not too much happening downtown -- with the exception of the nicely restored Union Pacific Railroad Depot, which houses a dinner theater & other local theater performances.
[Bob Wetmore, left, and Dennis Veatch next to the restored Depot building]
The "historic" Boot Hill complex is, to be honest, a bit tacky. Unfortunately for Dodge, the 1970s era urban renewal wiped out the historic structures. The substitute just does not match having the real thing.
Dennis Veatch, the City's Development Services Director, told me about the city's downtown rennovation plan. Because of lack of funds, progress on turning things around has been halting, with a few bright spots (the Depot I mentioned, and the new Arts Center in the old Carnegie Library).
The biggest boost according to Bob would be from the casino locating close to downtown. He showed me a large potential site. But casino developers might favor a more outlying location. Right now, though, Bob is focusing on the Tuesday vote. Then he'll turn to the location issues.
The only visible signs you see all around Dodge are pro-casino ("Vote Yes"). And Bob feels confident, since surveys show support in the 60 percent range.
Pastor Greg Savage of the First Southern Baptist Church of Dodge City is deeply troubled by the prospect of a casino. When I met with him he spelled out his concerns. At the top of his list is the affect it will have on families. He said that from 1 to 3 percent of casino visitors are gambling addicts. While that might seem like a low percentage, "if it's your family that's in this category, it can be devastating."
Pastor Savage also told me that the state casino legislation requires that 2 percent of all revenues from gaming be set aside to provide for addiciton treatment. "This is clear evidence that the State recognizes that serious addiciton problems will result from gambling."
But even Pastor Savage seems resigned to the voters approving the casino. And he acknowledges that the casino will bring new jobs to Dodge. I asked him what he'll do if the vote passes. He told me he wouldn't fight it any further, but would immediately sign up for training in how to deal with families affected by having a member addicted to gambling.
[photo right of Pastor Greg Savage in front of his Dodge City home]
note: I'll update this post after Tuesday's vote. Also, the Kansas casino legislation has the state's Lottery Commission responsible for selecting the casino developer in each of the four counties where voters can choose to authorize gambling. There's a substantial state oversight role. For some background, see Governor Sebelius' press release on the gaming legislation and the full text of the Bill that passed & was signed into law (a pdf file).
UPDATE: The casino measure passed by a vote of 3209 to 1816, as reported in the Dodge City Globe.