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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 2002

House panel passes plan to expand legalized gambling

March 30, 2002

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— A bill expanding legalized gambling cleared a House committee Friday, but even supporters expect it to be criticized as allocating too little profit to the state.

The bill would permit slot machines and other electronic gambling devices at the state's five pari-mutuel race tracks if voters in those counties approved, as well as one unspecified "at-large" site.

The Tourism Committee's 9-8 vote sent the measure to the House, which plans to debate it next week.

Supporters estimate the new machines would generate $320 million to $400 million a year after payouts to gamblers. The bill requires the machines to pay back at least 87 percent.

The bill would apportion 25.5 percent of the net revenues to the state, 67 percent to track owners and the rest to local governments, prizes in dog and horse races, charities and programs for addicted gamblers.

Although supporters defend the allocation, they expected to see a push to change it in the state's favor.

"That may be a problem for the bill," said former House Speaker Robin Jennison, now a lobbyist for Ruffin Co., which owns Wichita Greyhound Park and the Camptown Greyhound Park near Pittsburg.

Track owners have pushed expanded gambling as a way to save their struggling businesses, hurt by Missouri and Indian casinos, and to keep Kansas gamblers' dollars in Kansas.

Critics predict more gambling will lead to higher crime, create more addicted gamblers and drain recreation dollars from local businesses.

Last year both chambers rejected gambling proposals.

This year, legislators must close a projected $700 million gap between expected revenues and required spending over the next 15 months, and they worry about the future as well.

Allocation of revenues is a key issue. House members won't predict the outcome.

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