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Archive for Sunday, January 8, 2006

Gambling proponents to roll dice again

January 8, 2006

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— Last year lawmakers spent a lot of time talking about expanding gambling opportunities for Kansans to help balance the budget and fund education.

Nothing came of it, but it will come up again in the 2006 session, which starts Monday. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee has already scheduled discussions on gambling proposals for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius supports gambling expansion as a way to increase revenue without a tax increase.

"We are exporting millions of gaming dollars across the river to our friends in Missouri, across state lines to Las Vegas and to a variety of places. I would just as soon have that revenue to use for strategic investments here in Kansas," Sebelius said in an interview with the Journal-World.

One of last year's proposals was for the state to allow destination casinos, which the state would own but private companies would operate. These casinos would be on hotel resort grounds, which would have the added benefit of drawing tourists to the state. Like many gambling proposals in the past, this one didn't gain enough support from the Legislature to make it to the governor's desk.

"I think there's no question that there's some real tourism destination resort possibilities that we're missing out on that could attract conventions and tax dollars from not only Kansans but around the country, that we're just forgoing because we can't find the right mix of the puzzle to put on the table," Sebelius said.

Another one of last year's unsuccessful proposals was for a compact to allow the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes to build a $210 million hotel and casino complex near the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County.

Opponents of the idea claim an increase in addiction and crime would offset any benefits casinos would bring to the Kansas.

Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said that programs to help gambling addicts would have to be included with any expanded gambling.

"We need to make sure that if we're going to do that then we're going to have problem-gambler programs that are in effect. We're going to have all the tools needed to make sure that some of the other types of social ills that come along with gambling don't end up embedding themselves in Kansas culture," he said.

Davis and several other Lawrence legislators expressed doubt this will be the year for expanded gaming. Davis said that if a bill was going to pass it would have happened during the 2005 special session when the state desperately needed additional revenue for education.

"Now with the economy rebounding and state revenues up, I'm not sure there's going to be that pressure to find dollars like there has been before and so the vitality of the gaming proposal may be a little bit less than what it has been," he said.

But Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said the state's fiscal situation was up in the air until the education cost study is released on Monday.

"The [gaming] discussion comes up when we're looking for other funding mechanisms, and if there's a significantly higher bill being asked to cover education expenses then I'm sure we're going to be talking about gaming," she said.

Currently the state has a lottery and four American Indian casinos. Because the casinos are operated by the tribes, the state doesn't get any of the money they bring in. Kansas law also allows dog and horse racing tracks, as well as charity bingo.

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