Archive for Friday, April 1, 2005

Gambling again up for debate

Supporters say expanding casinos could mean more money for Kansas schools

April 1, 2005

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— With the legislative session hurtling toward an end, a push for expanded gambling seemed to be fizzling, at least for now.

One lobbyist said Thursday that gambling supporters are just three or four votes short of the number needed to get a bill passed in the Senate. Of course, he added, "they've been three or four votes short for 12 years."

The Legislature is expected to adjourn today before wrapping up business during a brief session later this month.

A Senate committee has approved a bill allowing casinos in six counties and slot machines at pari-mutuel racetracks.

Supporters say the proposal could raise $150 million annually and that money could go toward schools, satisfying districts that have been pleading for increased funds and helping meet a Kansas Supreme Court order that said lawmakers must increase school spending.

But gambling opponents say the "Slots for Tots" proposal was ill-advised.

"The proponents are using school funding as a horse to ride," said Glenn Thompson, the executive director of the anti-gambling group Stand Up for Kansas. "But gambling for education revenue is a bad gamble."

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he wasn't sure there would be a debate on the proposal.

"We are not going to do that unless the votes are there," to approve it, he said. It appeared late Thursday, there was not a majority in the Senate for the measure.

For the past 12 years, the Legislature has made an annual ritual of gut-wrenching debate over expanding gambling only to see proposals fail.

Waiting in the wings this year, however, is another major proposal -- a compact that has been worked out by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the Sac and Fox Nation, and the Kickapoo Tribe.

The compact would allow a resort casino near the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County as well as slot machines at three pari-mutuel horse and dog tracks. The state would receive as much as $125 million per year in revenue if the compact advances, backers of the project said.

Four tribal casinos are operating in northeast Kansas; but under compacts that the state approved in the 1990s, the state receives no revenue.

If the Legislature fails to approve the Slots for Tots plan, it could come back during the wrap-up session that starts April 27.

But supporters of the compact between Sebelius and the two tribes say their plan also is bolstered by a recent poll they commissioned that showed 62 percent of Kansans support the compact proposal.

"The compact's limited, reasonable approach to expanded gaming in Kansas generates substantial public support," said Freida Perkins, of the Sac and Fox Nation.

The poll was done by the Alexandria, Va., firm of Cooper & Secrest Associates. The group polled 807 Kansans statewide from March 8-10.

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