Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Legislation envisions expanded gambling

March 13, 2003


— With proponents hoping the state's budget problems will help their cause, a Senate panel opened two days of testimony Wednesday on proposals to expand legal gambling in Kansas.

Among the initiatives is a plan for a casino with Branson-style entertainment on the banks of the Kansas River in Wyandotte County.

In all, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee is studying eight gambling-related bills. They include proposals to allow video gambling machines at Kansas Lottery retailers, such as convenience stores; slot machines at the state's five pari-mutuel racetracks; and slot machines at an unspecified, at-large location.

Supporters estimate that any of the gambling options would raise at least $60 million for the state in the fiscal year that starts July 1, in which Kansas faces a projected budget shortfall approaching $1 billion.

"Revenue is the key issue," said Tom Palace, lobbyist for the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Assn.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius supports a bill that would let voters in racetracks' home counties decide whether to allow slot machines at the tracks. The tracks are located in Wichita, Frontenac, Kansas City, Anthony and Harper.

Representatives of Phil Ruffin, who owns the Wichita and Frontenac dog tracks, and of Bill Grace, owner of The Woodlands dog and horse track, were scheduled to testify today. Both Ruffin and Grace contributed to Sebelius' campaign for governor.

Wednesday's hearing focused on the bills affecting lottery retailers and racetracks. Committee Chairwoman Nancey Harrington, R-Goddard, assigned the two bills to a subcommittee made up of two gambling opponents and one supporter.

Highlights of Wednesday's activities at the Kansas Legislature:¢ The House gave first-round approval to a bill regulating abortion clinics, after rejecting amendments from abortion rights supporters.¢ The Senate tentatively approved a bill requiring treatment instead of prison time for nonviolent offenders convicted of drug possession.¢ With proponents hoping the state's budget problems will help their cause, a Senate panel opened two days of testimony on bills expanding legal gambling. Wednesday was the 59th calendar day of the session, which is scheduled to last 90 days.

Plans for the River Falls Casino in Wyandotte County were outlined by Dallas developer Larry Waldrop.

Waldrop said the proposal envisions a 200-room hotel, an 80,000-square-foot casino, five restaurants and convention space. The complex would be located at the intersection of Interstates 435 and 70, south of Kansas Speedway and the Village West tourism district.

Waldrop counts four Kansas businessmen, two Montana cattlemen and a California horse breeder among the investors.

Currently, slot machines and Las Vegas-style gambling are permitted only at casinos on Indian reservations in northeast Kansas. Two of the tribes -- the Kickapoo and the Sac and Fox -- unveiled plans in January to build a $175 million casino-hotel near Kansas Speedway.

The tribes will have to negotiate a compact with the state to proceed with the project.

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