Douglas County legislators are ready to make a bet - at least a limited one - on expanded casino gaming in the state.
All five legislators who attended a forum Friday hosted by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce said they could support some form of new gaming to help with the state's budget.
"If you can't fully fund K-12 education, if you can't fully fund special education, if you can't fully fund higher education, if you can't fully fund social services, then it's probably time to look at adding gaming," said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence. "You have to look at where that money is going now. It is going over to Missouri. If you don't want to pass a tax increase, you have to look at casino gaming."
But the delegation - which included Ballard, Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, and Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence - said passing a gaming bill would be difficult this session.
"My personal belief is that you won't see a gaming bill pass this session unless legislators are faced with some pretty serious financial scenarios," Holland said. "They would have to be faced with cutting taxes or really significantly cutting services."
Davis said that scenario could come to be depending on what a study on the cost of K-12 education determines is needed in new funding for schools. But he said passing a gaming bill would be difficult even then because it is tough to get legislative support for any one specific option.
That was evident at Friday's event. Davis, Holland and Ballard said they could support a destination-style casino operation, but Pine and Francisco said they would be more comfortable with first allowing slot machines at racetracks, like the Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan.
Pine said he preferred that approach because he thought it could help the state strengthen its horse- and greyhound-breeding industries.
Francisco said if the Legislature approved a gaming bill, it likely would face a court battle.
The chamber will offer another legislative forum at 4 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. The free event is open to the public.