Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2007

House debates gambling plans

March 24, 2007


— Supporters of expanded gambling scored a major victory Friday, holding together a bipartisan coalition while building their bill for allowing casinos and slot machines, piece by piece during a lengthy and contentious House debate.

At midnight, as the debate reached its 10th hour, there was no indication when a vote on giving the bill first-round approval might be taken. Lawmakers had offered some two dozen amendments with others waiting in the wings.

A bipartisan coalition outlined a proposal allowing tourist-attracting casinos in Wyandotte County; either Sedgwick or Sumner county, and either Crawford or Cherokee county, plus 2,200 slot machines distributed among three race tracks with wagering - the Woodlands in Kansas City, Wichita Greyhound Park and Camptown at Frontenac.

After the coalition plan emerged as a series of successful amendments, lawmakers lined up to offer various other amendments. One would permit Dodge City to have a casino. Another allowed the casino in south-central Kansas to be in either Sedgwick or Sumner county, while the original coalition plan specified Sedgwick.

Many amendments had little to do with gambling and were seen as an effort to load up the bill to kill it. Most were rejected.

"As good as these amendments are, this is about gaming," said Rep. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park. "We don't need to sit here all night and listen to everybody's favorite topics. Let's quit playing games with all these things."

Supporters say the state eventually could realize $200 million a year from the casinos and tracks, though it would be about three years before the casinos would be running. Slots at the tracks could be a reality within a year.

The coalition offered its 98-page plan as an amendment to a bill extending the life of the Kansas Lottery.

"It provides a revenue stream for things the state needs. It provides a leisure activity for a lot of our folks and it keeps money in Kansas," said Rep. Charles Roth, R-Salina, one of the backers of the coalition plan.

The overall gambling proposal calls for casino operators to agree to invest at least $225 million and pay a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $25 million. Also, the state would receive at least 22 percent of the casino revenue and 40 percent of the slot revenue from the tracks.

The proposal was offered as an amendment to a Senate-passed bill making the Kansas Lottery permanent. The lottery began operating in 1987, and state law requires legislators to renew it periodically. This year's bill would make the lottery permanent. Legislators must pass a bill this year to continue lottery ticket sales after June 30.

Attaching a gambling measure to a Senate bill means that chamber can quickly accept what the House did or resolve the issue in a House-Senate negotiating committee.


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