Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Ballard key vote in casino bill

May 4, 2002


— It was "Home on the Range" versus the sound of money. Money won  barely.

By one vote, 60-59, the Kansas House advanced a bill to allow casino-style gambling at pari-mutuel racetracks and one at-large location, which many lawmakers say will probably be Dodge City. A final House vote is scheduled for today and if approved, the battle will then move to the Senate.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, delivered a crucial vote after it was initially thought the casino bill had died on a 57-57 tie vote.

Ballard, a supporter of expanded gambling, said her vote wasn't recorded because the vote button at her desk malfunctioned.

After a few confusing minutes, the House voted again, Ballard's green light for a "yes" vote appeared, and several other lawmakers changed votes to produce the final result.

The vote ended about three hours of debate during which supporters said allowing electronic gambling machines, such as slot machines, at the tracks would provide needed jobs and revenue at a time when the state is facing a $777 million budget shortfall.

'Midwestern values'

But opponents said expanding gambling would lead to high social costs through increased bankruptcies and divorces brought about by out-of-control gamblers.

Gambling opponent Rep. Tony Powell, R-Wichita, recited the lyrics to "Home on the Range," saying the song depicted his vision of Kansas.

"We don't fall for quick, get-rich schemes. We have solid, good Midwestern values," he said.

But Ballard said the overwhelming majority of people who gamble do so responsibly and go to casinos simply to have a good time.

"Many people go for leisure and entertainment," she said. Of problem gamblers, she said, "There are a lot of people who eat more than they should, and there are a lot of people who drink more than they should, and there's nothing we can do about it."

The bill allows electronic gambling machines at pari-mutuel tracks, including The Woodlands horse and dog track in Kansas City, Kan., after approval by voters in the counties where those tracks are located.

The casinos would be under the authority of the Kansas Lottery, which would contract with companies to run the games. Two-thirds of the net income from the machines, minus winnings, would go to the game operators. The state general revenue fund would receive 25 percent, while the remaining moneys would be divided between the host city and county and various other funds.

'Out of step'

A similar version of the bill failed earlier in the session in the House.

But Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, the bill's chief sponsor, said it had picked up additional support because of the state's worsening budget problems.

Opponents said if the bill became law, the games would not help state coffers because it would take more than one year to start them up, and when gamblers started playing the machines, that would take away money wagered on the Kansas Lottery.

Powell said he was dismayed Republican leaders had brought the issue up again. He said he had seen polls that showed Kansans do not approve of state-sanctioned casinos.

"With all due respect, our leadership is out of step with Kansas voters," he said.

Despite Friday's approval, the legislation still faces an uphill climb. It must win final approval in the 125-member House, a summit Aurand said may be impossible to climb.

"We're awfully close," he said. He said he would tell members that if they killed the bill, then they would have to increase taxes more or make deeper cuts.

In the Senate, where slots have been rejected in past years, the proposal also faces tough odds. Gov. Bill Graves has indicated he would sign into law a bill that reached him and allowed slots at the tracks.

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