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Archive for Sunday, January 19, 2003

Sebelius prefers an indirect role in gambling bill

January 19, 2003

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius supports an expansion of legalized gambling in Kansas but doesn't want to have to write the bill or settle disputes among factions of supporters.

Gambling backers disagree about whether her intervention will be necessary for a proposal to pass the Legislature.

For years, owners of the state's five pari-mutuel race tracks have sought legislation allowing them to install slot machines. Such a bill won House approval last year but was not put to a vote in the Senate.

Sebelius said she supported such efforts but added she would "hope not to have my own gambling proposal."

"I've made a very strong pitch to those who are interested in a gambling initiative that they should have one proposal that they support," Sebelius said. "I'm not really interested in being the broker of the various interests."

Proponents believe slot machines would return the tracks to profitability after years of losing business to Missouri's riverboat casinos.

They also contend the state would capture revenue of at least $100 million a year from the betting activity, although some budget experts say that figure is inflated.

But their efforts have been fought by gambling opponents and undermined by disagreement on distributing profits.

Besides pari-mutuel wagering, Kansas also offers legal gambling in the form of the state lottery, nonprofit groups' bingo games and the Indian casinos on northeast Kansas' four reservations.

Robin Jennison, a former Kansas House speaker who lobbies for Wichita Greyhound Park, said he believed Sebelius or a legislative leader must step in to marshal track owners and horse and dog groups behind a single plan.

"I'm convinced that's about the only way it will happen," he said.

He noted that Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, voted against last year's bill and that Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, has been reluctant to embrace such proposals.

But Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, who supports expanded gambling, said Sebelius need not be directly involved.

"At this point, there may be too many players in the game, and we're going to have to boil it down," he said. "That's going to be our work."

Cox said he and other legislators were working on a bill, although he declined to offer details. Last year's bill would have given the state 26.5 percent of the profits from electronic gambling machines.

Races are held throughout the year at Wichita Greyhound Park and at The Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan., which has separate dog and horse tracks. Abbreviated seasons are held at Eureka Downs, in Eureka, and Anthony Downs, in Harper.

Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac was open for six months in 1995 and fewer than three months in 2000.

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