Archive for Monday, January 29, 2007

Lottery-casino pair a legislative gamble

January 29, 2007


— It's that time of the year again, when supporters of expanded gambling in Kansas are at the Statehouse trying to drum up support for casinos and slot machines.

But the beat may be different this year.

In the past, the gambling issue has stood on its own, with supporters touting it as a way to increase state revenues, while opponents view it as undermining society's morals.

This year there's a new wrinkle. Lawmakers must approve the continuation of the 20-year-old lottery, and failing to do that would be slaughtering a prized cash cow.

The lottery will dump $67 million in state coffers in the current budget year, including $42 million used to finance most of the state's economic development efforts.

"Renewing the lottery is a critical thing. I don't think you can sink the lottery," said Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina. "It's overwhelmingly popular and part of Kansas life."

Gambling supporters see the lottery's popularity as a way to enhance their chances, either by bundling the two bills or working out a deal with legislative leaders to guarantee a vote on gambling in return for supporting the lottery.

The idea is that legislators waffling on gambling but backing the lottery might go ahead and vote for the bundled bill.

Kansans are used to gambling. Aside from the lottery, there's wagering on horse and dog races and four American Indian casinos in northeast Kansas. There also are gambling boats in Kansas City, Mo., and Indian casinos in Oklahoma.

"The gambling industry is getting to be slowly but surely a part of American life, which explains why there is an attempt every year, because there's the feeling that the incremental process of acceptability one day will lead to success," said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science professor.

Expanded gambling has been debated and discussed since the early 1990s, always falling short. Often, gambling interests became greedy - fighting among themselves for slices of the potential pie - which costs them votes.

In past years, gambling bills started in the Senate on the theory the votes were there and once senators approved a measure, pressure would build on the House. This year is different.

"We've been out front the last couple of years and we decided to let the House go first if they're willing," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Last year, Senate leaders thought they had enough votes to pass a gambling bill. But one senator reneged on his promise, dooming the bill and leaving the leadership more than a little embarrassed.

Gambling supporters say they've picked up support in the House after November's elections. But House leaders aren't so sure.

"We have an untested body. They haven't voted on such things. I don't even know how my committee will vote on it," said Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee where the lottery and gambling bills have been assigned.

Siegfreid, R-Olathe, hasn't decided when the committee will consider either bill, but didn't think much of the idea of merging them.

"We want to move the lottery first if we can," he said. "The lottery is established. If you would marry the two bills and it goes down, we are in a big mess."

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, sees it differently.

"There is some risk involved, but the gaming issue needs to be decided," Burroughs said.

Burroughs is among the backers of a bill allowing a casino in the Kansas City, Kan., area and another in southeast Kansas, plus slots at pari-mutuel horse and dog tracks in Kansas City, Frontenac and Wichita.

He wants a "packaged deal" of either the two bills bundled or assurances from House leaders of a separate vote on gambling at the same time.

"There's a number of legislators willing to vote no on the lottery if gaming isn't part of the package, including myself," he said.

But not everybody buys into the doom-and-gloom prophecy.

"At the end of the day, we'll reauthorize the lottery. The question is whether it'll be with expanded gambling. There's too much money in the lottery not to do it," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.


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