Gambling bill clears first House hurdle
Topeka ? Tourist-attracting casinos and slot machines at race tracks were a step closer to reality when the House gave first-round approval to the idea after more than a dozen hours of sometimes contentious and emotional debate.
The 65-50 vote before dawn Saturday advanced the bill to final action, scheduled for Monday. House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, a gambling opponent, said he thinks the votes will hold to send the measure to the Senate.
A bipartisan coalition proposal called for state-owned casinos in Wyandotte County, Sedgwick 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 the now-closed Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac.
After the coalition plan emerged, lawmakers lined up to offer some 50 amendments, with all but a few voted down.
Successful amendments permitted Dodge City to have a casino and allowed the casino in south-central Kansas to be in either Sedgwick or Sumner county. A third extended a moratorium on additional casinos or slots at the tracks from 15 years to 25 years. All casino locations would have to be approved by voters in the county in which they’re located.
Supporters said 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.
House Majority Leader Ray Merrick wasn’t surprised by a debate on the bill, which started at 2 p.m. Friday and ended about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
“You can’t tell people they can’t run amendments,” said Merrick, R-Stilwell. “It shows people had strong feelings.”
Many amendments were seen as efforts to weigh the bill down and the flurry of proposals irritated some lawmakers as the night grew late.
“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.”
The coalition offered its 98-page plan as an amendment to a Senate-passed bill extending the Kansas Lottery, which is due for renewal this year. Attaching a gambling measure to a Senate bill means the chamber could quickly accept it or resolve the issue in a House-Senate negotiating committee.
Supporters noted that Kansans already are gambling. Besides the lottery and wagering at race tracks, there are casinos in Kansas City, Mo., and tribal casinos in Oklahoma near the state line. Also, there are four American Indian casinos in northeast Kansas.
“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.
But other House members questioned whether the bill is constitutional, because the Kansas Constitution requires such gambling to be state-owned and operated and private developers would be involved under the plan.
They also said casinos and slots at the tracks would create more gambling addicts – and more broken and bankrupt families.
Back and forth
At first, opponents forced supporters of the plan to build their bill piece by piece, because Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, demanded that the plan be divided into seven parts. After the first four passed, Siegfreid had the remaining three parts voted upon as one section, which passed 67-54.
Opponents then slowed the debate with various tactics. Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, spent 40 minutes reading from a report about gambling in Kansas, touching on such topics as “competitive impacts” and revenue projections.
And opponents offered amendment after amendment.
Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, made a tearful plea to ban the use of credit cards and ATM machines at casinos. His voice choked as he talked about how gambling addiction ruined his father-in-law, so that he died penniless.
Legislators first approved his amendment, then took a second vote and rejected it, after some said it would prevent guests at casino hotels from using credit cards to pay for their rooms – something Brown disputed.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said the back-and-forth on Brown’s proposal showed the influence of gambling developers’ wealth on the debate and worried that the message was that Kansas is “for sale.” At one point, she read a list of more than $20,000 in contributions to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ campaign linked to Phil Ruffin, a casino operator who owns Wichita Greyhound Park.