Topeka Time was when the very mention of the Kansas Lottery was guaranteed to generate a raucous debate about the evils of gambling versus the need for more state income. Not so Tuesday.
Without a word of debate or dissent, the Senate gave first-round approval to legislation making the lottery a permanent fixture of state government. Senate leaders expect easy passage on a final vote today to send the bill to the House.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt acknowledged he was surprised by how quickly the chamber dealt with the bill.
"Maybe people are tired of debating that whole basket of issues," said Schmidt, R-Independence. "I think it's a permanent institution for Kansas, and this bill acknowledges that."
The lottery was created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1986, and it went into operation the following year. Since then, the Legislature reauthorized the operation of the lottery in 1990, 1995 and 2001.
The bill removes the reauthorization requirement, although legislators still could abolish the lottery if they decide it's no longer wanted or needed.
In past years, the debate to reauthorize the lottery often was intense and acrimonious between those who thought the games of chance brought added revenue to the state and those who saw it causing increased social ills.
In 2001, the lottery renewal got caught up between factions wanting to limit how the lottery operated and those using the renewal bill as a lever to force passage of other legislation.
But through the years, the lottery has become more accepted by Kansans and throughout the nation. Kansas is among 40 states with a lottery.
Aside from the lottery, there's wagering on horse and dog races and four American Indian casinos in northeast Kansas. There are also gambling boats in Kansas City, Mo., and Indian casinos in Oklahoma.
In the current budget year, the lottery is expected to generate about $67 million for the state, with about $42 million of that going to pay for most of the state's economic development efforts.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wants to use lottery dollars to pay signing bonuses to new workers in aviation, biosciences and a few other industries as part of a larger effort to keep the Kansas economy growing.
Once the bill gets to the House, it could be a different story. Some members want to merge the lottery legislation with a proposal allowing expanded gambling, including casinos and slot machines at pari-mutuel dog and horse tracks.
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.
Backers want a casino in the Kansas City, Kan., area and another in southeast Kansas, plus slots at tracks in Kansas City, Frontenac and Wichita, all subject to voter approval in their home counties.
Senate leaders say any gambling bill this year will have to start in the House after what happened last year. They thought they had enough votes to pass a gambling bill, but one unidentified senator reneged on a promise to vote for the bill, leading to its defeat.