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Archive for Monday, November 15, 2004

Speaker wants Legislature to vote on gaming compact

November 15, 2004

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— A compact permitting two Indian tribes to open a casino in Wyandotte County won't be reviewed by legislative leaders this week, House Speaker Doug Mays said today.

Mays' decision means Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes will have to seek approval for the compact from the entire Legislature after it convenes in January.

However, Sebelius is holding out hope that Mays will reconsider.

"The Speaker still has an opportunity to do what is right for the people of Kansas and take up the issue on Wednesday. I hope he will take that opportunity," Sebelius said today.

The compact would guarantee the state $50 million or more a year in revenues from the new casino, but the state would have to limit gambling elsewhere to protect the new casino from competition. It would be the first tribal-state agreement to give Kansas a share of casino revenues, though seven other states have similar arrangements with tribes.

Mays can block a decision this week because as chairman of the Legislative Coordinating Council, he sets the agenda. The council, the Legislature's top seven leaders, can approve a gambling compact under Kansas law and is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

But the House speaker said the compact should be reviewed by the full Legislature. He announced his decision in a letter to other leaders.

Mays said having only the leaders decide the compact's fate probably would undermine public confidence in the Legislature.

"My desire is not to scuttle the compact but to travel the well-known path of legislative deliberation," wrote Mays, R-Topeka.

Kickapoo leaders were not available for comment at their offices, and Sac and Fox Chairwoman Sandra Keo said she had not seen Mays' letter.

Sebelius said sending the issue again through the legislative process would provide an unneeded delay.

"Although I understand the Speaker's concerns, I believe this could be a lost opportunity for the people of Kansas," Sebelius said.

During the upcoming session of the Legislature, lawmakers will be dealing with a mix of issues that includes making health care affordable to Kansans, improving schools and finding ways to make government more efficient, Sebelius said.

"It makes little sense to yet again devote hundreds of hours of legislators' time on the gaming issue, when we could focus on issues that have a greater effect on Kansans' everyday lives," the goveror said.

Sebelius said her office has followed the process the Legislature created for gaming compacts.

"We negotiated the compact. We submitted the compact to the legislative committee in October. We renegotiated the compact according to the legislative committee's recommendations. And we submitted it to the legislative committee again last week. The process now calls for the LCC to consider the compact, which it did with two of the four existing compacts," she said. "If the LCC does not consider the compact on Wednesday, the process will have start all over again. That would be an enormous waste of state resources and taxpayers' dollars."

However, if delayed, she held out hope the Legislature would take up the compact at some point.

"This compact would generate 2,500 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. It would place responsible limits on gaming elsewhere in the state," she said. "It would generate $50 million for the state from the casino alone, and could generate more than $150 million if the Legislature approved video lottery machines at the parimutuel tracks. This money could go to schools, to health care, and to keep taxes low."

The U.S. Department of the Interior also must sign off on the tribes' proposed site near Kansas Speedway for them to build their proposed $210 million casino-and-hotel complex.

The Kickapoo and Sac and Fox already operate smaller, separate casinos in northeast Kansas, which eventually would close. They and two other tribes, the Iowa and Prairie Band Potawatomi, opened casinos under compacts negotiated in the 1990s, which did not give the state any revenues.

To receive revenues from the new Wyandotte County casino, the state would have limit to other new gambling.

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