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Archive for Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sumner County may be removed from gambling bill

April 3, 2007

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— Sumner County might lose its chance at landing a tourist-attracting, hotel-and-casino complex in a bill being drafted to correct technical flaws in gambling legislation approved last week.

Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said Monday that the "trailer bill" will remove Sumner County, leaving Sedgwick County as the sole contender for a south-central Kansas casino. He said the legislation is being drafted.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said he couldn't evaluate the bill's prospects because he hasn't seen it.

Supporters of allowing Sumner County to seek a casino, including Wellington Mayor Stan Gilliland, were at the Statehouse on Monday talking with legislators. They wanted to talk with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius but had to settle for her staff.

"The only thing we learned today is that there is a possibility that they won't take out Sumner County, but we don't know that for a fact," Gilliland said.

The mayor said he still wants to talk with the governor.

"We're trying to reclaim what is rightfully ours," Gilliland said, adding a casino in Sumner County would create about 2,500 jobs.

In the zones

Sebelius says she will sign the bill allowing casinos in Ford County, Wyandotte County, south-central Kansas and southeast Kansas.

It also allows up to 2,200 slot machines total at dog and horse tracks in Kansas City, Wichita and Frontenac. Voters in counties with gambling operations first would have to approve it.

That legislation grouped Sumner and Sedgwick counties into one zone, with the casino and slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. Sumner County would receive an estimated $2 million a year in revenues even if it didn't get a casino, but it would get more if it landed one.

Bruce wants to eliminate Sumner from the south-central zone and have the six counties surrounding Sedgwick - Butler, Cowley, Harvey, Kingman, Reno and Sumner - each receive about $500,000 annually when the casino and slots are in full operation.

Bruce voted against a gambling bill last year but supported this year's version because, he said, the governor assured him Sumner County would be removed and because it included a 25-year moratorium on additional casinos or slots at tracks.

"The governor and I reached agreement on removing Sumner County," he said. "I said, 'If you did that, I wouldn't have a problem with voting for that.'"

He later said while he had talked with the governor about the bill, the agreement to remove Sumner County was with members of her staff.

'Happy coincidence'

Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said discussions still are under way with legislators about the specifics of the trailer bill.

As for his home county, Reno, getting extra money under the proposal, Bruce said, "It's a happy coincidence."

He said studies show Sedgwick County, which includes Wichita, would have the best chance of supporting a casino and slots at tracks. Sumner, he said, would "never be able to support a destination-based casino."

"It has to be in Wichita, so why open up that whole discussion?" Bruce said. "Even if they had a plan to put one in there, compared to the plan for Wichita, which one is going to win? It's going to be the Wichita one."

Gilliland disagreed with Bruce's assessment, noting tribal casinos are just over the state line in Oklahoma. He said most of the evening traffic through his town consists of people going to Oklahoma.

"If they can support it across the line in Oklahoma, we can support it," the mayor said.

Crawford and Cherokee counties comprise the southeast zone, and each would share in revenue from the other. But Bruce said the circumstances are different because Crawford County would have the dog track with slots and Cherokee County the casino.

"Basically what it comes down to is no matter what, there is not going to be a casino built in Sumner County, and so it becomes a question of equity," Bruce said.

Sumner County is in the district of Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, who voted for the bill after voting against last year's gambling measure. She said she "never asked for Sumner to come out."

Sumner County was added to the bill in the House by Rep. Vincent Wetta, D-Wellington, on a 62-57 vote.

"If we get taken out, it's going to be after we've done everything we can for our district," Wetta said.

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