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Kan. Senate rejects measure to lure new casino

Published on -4/3/2013, 6:27 AM

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By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- An attempt to bring a state-owned casino to southeast Kansas failed Tuesday evening when the state Senate rejected a deal to help such a project but also kill off any possibility of slot machines at dog and horse tracks.

Senators voted 24-15 against a bill rewriting a 2007 state law authorizing both state-owned casinos and slots at dog and horse racing tracks. Under the law, the Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the new gambling and claims part of the profits, while leaving day-to-day management in the hands of private developers and track owners.

State-owned casinos are operating in Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan., and south of Wichita. But track owners contend the law didn't make slot machines lucrative enough for them to install, and the lottery doesn't have a potential developer for a casino in the Pittsburg area.

The law requires the developer of a southeast Kansas casino to invest at least $225 million, plus pay a $25 million fee to the state, and backers of a project argue both figures are too high. The bill would have dropped the investment requirement to $50 million and reset the state fee at $5.5 million.

Southeast Kansas legislators have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to rewrite the gambling law, and this year, casino backers forged an unusual alliance with gambling opponents. The resulting bill would have repealed authorization for slots at Wichita Greyhound Park; Camptown Greyhound Park, north of Pittsburg; and The Woodlands dog and horse racing park in Kansas City, Kan. All three have been closed since 2008.

"What we have now is a very delicate compromise," Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who supported the measure, told her colleagues.

The state identified a developer in 2008 for a casino in the southeast corner of Cherokee County, along the Oklahoma line, but the company dropped its plans after the Quapaw tribe opened a casino just across the state line. The tribal casino has since stymied interest in a Kansas casino, at least one requiring a $225 million investment.

"This is not what I'd want if I were king for a day," Sen. Jake LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican, said of the bill. "It is a compromise that we can live with."

But the bill faced strong opposition from horse owners, breeders and trainers who, like their counterparts in dog racing, would get a little of the profit from slots at the tracks. They handed out fliers outside the Senate chamber saying, "Don't Kill Kansas Horse Racing."

"It was the death nail in our coffin if they'd have passed it," said Jeff Rutland, a horse owner, breeder and trainer from Independence.

The 2007 gambling law capped track owners' share of slots revenues at 40 percent. And they've said that percentage, following the Great Recession, isn't big enough to make slots profitable. They've also failed in the past to persuade lawmakers to rewrite the gambling law.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, offered an amendment to the bill to allow slots at The Woodlands and to give its owners more than 60 percent of the revenues. Senators voted 20-17 against his proposal, and Fitzgerald voted against the measure on final action.

Conservative, anti-gambling Republicans split over the bill.

Some, like Wagle, said the measure represented new limits on gambling because it reduced the number of possible state-owned gambling sites to four -- just the casinos -- from seven, including the tracks.

But other gambling opponents rejected that argument because there's currently no casino in the Pittsburg area and no slots at the tracks.

"The bill is an expansion of gaming," said Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican who voted against the measure.

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The gambling bill is Senate Sub for HB 2055.

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Online:

Text of the bill and the Senate's vote: http://bit.ly/10tX4KN

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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