Former foes now on same side of gambling issue

? They say politics makes strange bedfellows.

That is even more true when it comes to the debate in the Legislature over whether to allow state-revenue producing casinos.

Take, for instance, Tim Shallenburger, who lost the 2002 gubernatorial election to Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, and who now is chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.

Shallenburger’s current employer, American Bank in southeast Kansas, his home county of Cherokee, and his local chamber of commerce want casino gambling.

So Shallenburger, an opponent of gambling when he was in the Legislature, is now working with key lawmakers to get a gambling bill passed this legislative session, as is Sebelius.

“All we are trying to do from the southeast Kansas point of view is if this happens, let’s do it this way. I’m wearing a lot of hats here, and it does get kind of awkward,” Shallenburger said.

Though he’s not a fan of gambling, Shallenburger said nine American Indian casinos have been built in Oklahoma within 10 minutes’ drive of his home in Baxter Springs.

“Clearly along the border, right now, they’re sucking money out of our economy,” he said.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle saw nothing unusual about Shallenburger’s new stance on the controversial topic.

“It’s a Kansas issue, not a political or partisan issue,” said Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus.

“I think he has an interest in seeing economic development of the state,” Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, and chairman of the committee that is considering gambling legislation.

The committee will probably get a bill late next week and then start hearings the week after that. A vote in the full Senate could come next month.

The bill being drafted would authorize casinos in the Kansas City, Kan., and southeast Kansas areas, and add slot machines at pari-mutuel tracks in Kansas City, Kan., Wichita and Pittsburg.

Currently in Kansas, four Indian tribes operate casinos in the northeast portion of the state through compacts in which the state gets no revenue.

Efforts to expand casino gaming in Kansas have been repeatedly rejected by legislators, but some Capitol handicappers are giving casino gambling better odds this year because of a recent study that concluded the state needs to come up with approximately $470 million more for schools.

Shallenburger noted that southeast Kansas has been cited as having great potential for a casino.

In 2004, a study done for the state lottery showed the small town of Galena, which is a stone’s throw from Missouri and a few miles from Oklahoma, would be the most attractive casino site in the state.

The study by the Maine firm of Christiansen Capital Advisors stated that a casino in Galena would draw patrons from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Shallenburger said the study’s results naturally generated enthusiasm in southeast Kansas.

“I think we have a good case,” he said.