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Archive for Thursday, February 3, 2005

Group proposes expanding gambling

February 3, 2005

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— Gambling lobbyists trotted out a new proposal for state-owned casinos on Wednesday, arguing they would provide more money for education while tapping into a lucrative tourism industry.

Doug Lawrence, a lobbyist for the Kansas Greyhound Association, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee the package could provide the state with as much as $150 million in revenues in the next fiscal year, starting July 1.

The plan would allow development of state-owned casinos in three "destination zones" -- Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties, as well as in Cherokee or Crawford county. The plan would also allow 4,000 slot machines at the state's pari-mutuel race tracks and 500 total machines at sites run by up to 84 qualified veterans' organizations.

Lawrence said while the proposal is not universally accepted by all gambling interests, it has the support of greyhound breeders, as well as several horse associations in Kansas.

"It does reflect a common understanding," Lawrence said. "Not everyone in the coalition agrees with everything in the bill."

The committee hearings on the proposal are scheduled for later this month. The coalition planned a Statehouse news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss the proposal in detail.

Legislators have repeatedly rejected efforts to expand gambling in Kansas beyond the state lottery and pari-mutuel racing. The Kansas Constitution does permit the state to own a casino.

The proposal becomes the third known gambling package to surface this session.

Legislators have yet to consider a compact negotiated between Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and two American Indian tribes for a casino near Kansas Speedway. And Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, has proposed expanding gambling in Kansas, with the proceeds going for education. He hasn't outlined specifics.

The Kansas Supreme Court has given legislators until April 12 to fix problems with the state's school finance formula. The justices issued an opinion Jan. 3 offering few specifics on needed changes, but did say more money was needed. The state currently spends $2.7 billion annually on aid to public schools.

"We believe there is a broad interest in the Legislature to do something other than raise taxes," Lawrence said.

Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, said the school ruling gave legislators a reason to consider other options.

"It's got a shot. It's a realistic approach," said Barone, whose district includes Camptown Greyhound Park, which has been closed since November 2000.

The Sebelius-negotiated compact would allow the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes to open a casino in Wyandotte County and guarantee the state $50 million or more annually. The agreement also would protect the new casino from competition by threatening the state with the loss of that revenue if it did not restrict gambling elsewhere.

Legislative leaders refused to consider the compact last fall when it was completed, saying the full Legislature deserved a right to debate the matter.

Matt All, the governor's chief counsel, told the Senate committee it would not push the compact until legislators first considered other gambling proposals.

Lawrence said the coalition's proposal and the Indian compact weren't mutually exclusive, and that if the tribes failed to win legislative approval they would be well-positioned to compete for a destination casino in Wyandotte County.

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