Gambling in Kansas
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Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius today confirmed she will sign into law a bill that could allow expansion of casino gambling.
"This is an opportunity for our state to generate out-of state dollars from visitors, to reinvigorate Kansas agribusinesses raising horses and greyhounds, and to maximize state revenue while maintaining strict regulatory oversight," Sebelius said in a prepared statement.
Her announcement came after an early-hours 21-19 vote in the Kansas Senate Thursday. The vote followed a dozen hours of supporters holding the floor, preventing opponents from calling for a vote they felt would kill the bill. Approval of the House-passed bill also ended 15 years of failure by gambling promoters.
State Sen. Marci Francisco voted for the bill; Sen. Roger Pine was opposed.
But the Prairie Band Potawatomi, which operates a resort casino north of Topeka, will challenge the law once it's enacted because it violates the Kansas Constitution, said tribal chairwoman Tracy Stanhoff.
"I think we've been sideswiped. The state has been taken in the wrong direction," Stanhoff said, adding the legislation "will severely impact our operation."
Opponents argue the constitution requires the state not only to own the casinos and slots at tracks, but to manage them directly, rather than delegating management to a private company as the legislation envisions.
"I think the statute is constitutional but I anticipate a legal challenge and the courts will decide," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.
While the state would hire private companies to manage the new gambling, it would own and operate the games, likely making Kansas the first state in the nation to do so.
There are 11 states with commercial casinos, and the National Conference of State Legislatures says it's unaware of any state-operated casinos, with the exception of video lottery terminals in states like South Dakota, Rhode Island and Oregon.
Supporters believe the new gambling eventually could generate $200 million a year in revenues to the state to be used for debt reduction, infrastructure development and reducing local property taxes.
Doug Lawrence, a lobbyist for the Kansas Greyhound Association, predicted that tracks will have slot machines by the end of the year.
But gambling promoters acknowledge casinos won't be operating for about three years.
Supporters of the bill said Kansans already are gambling. There's the lottery, four tribal casinos in Kansas and near the state line in Oklahoma, wagering on dog and horse races plus Missouri casinos in Kansas City and St. Joseph.
The measure calls for large, tourist-attracting hotel-and-casino complexes in Ford County, Wyandotte County, either Sedgwick or Sumner county and either Cherokee and Crawford county. The state would receive 22 percent of their revenues, which opponents said isn't enough.
"We're giving away the farm tonight and I believe it's a vote we'll regret," said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Wichita Greyhound Park, the Woodlands in Kansas City and the now-closed Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac would divide 2,200 slot with another 600 slots once the state signed contracts with casino managers.
Opponents argued expanded gambling would hurt existing restaurants and entertainment businesses and cause social ills, such as an increase in addicted gamblers, bankruptcies and broken families. They had hoped to kill the bill and - in a high-stakes tactic that backfired - forced the vote that led to passage.
"I'm glad I don't have to explain this to my family and my grandchildren when it goes into the Kansas history books," said Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell.
Supporters noted the bill says a casino or slots at the tracks won't be allowed in a particular county unless voters there approved.
"This has been a hard vote for all of us," said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who supported the measure. "I believe strongly, so strongly, in the people's right to vote."
Sebelius said: "The people of Kansas will finally have a chance to decide for themselves on whether responsible gaming should be in their communities."
The 98-page proposal was drafted by a bipartisan coalition in the House and amended into a Senate bill extending the lottery and sent it back to the Senate. Lottery ticket sales would stop on June 30 without the extension.
The House's action left the Senate with the choice of demanding negotiations and attempting to draft a compromise on gambling, or accepting the House's version and sending the bill to Sebelius.
Supporters voted 22-18 Wednesday morning to put the bill in a House-Senate conference committee to buy them time to get enough votes for passage.
Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, offered a motion to force a second vote - to accept the House's version - hoping it would fail, killing the bill. But as supporters continued their collective filibuster, it gave them time to find enough votes.
After Barnett made his motion, supporters seized the floor, taking turns, touching on a variety of topics, from how expanded gambling will help the state to explaining the rules for playing blackjack and other card games.
"The procedural convulsions that consumed many hours gave many senators time to think and talk, and I think that's what tipped the balance," Schmidt said.