Gambling in Kansas
Topeka Gambling supporters Thursday were stunned by their success, opponents licked their wounds, and the prospect of playing video slot machines at racetracks and new destination casinos in Kansas seemed a possibility.
In a dramatic turn of events that broke a 15-year losing streak, a bill to expand gambling was approved by the Legislature and delivered to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who promised to sign it into law.
Asked if he was surprised or shocked by the turn of events, gambling proponent Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said: "Both. We were on life support."
Opponents of the bill had set the stage to try to kill the legislation for the 2007 session. But the strategy backfired.
In the Senate, Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, had called for an up-or-down vote on the bill when it appeared there weren't enough votes to pass it. In the House, Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, refused to appoint a conference committee to work on the bill.
That prompted supporters of the bill to filibuster in the Senate, talking as a delay tactic while they tried to round up enough support to approve Barnett's motion.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, helped to stall action, talking for approximately three hours by reading feasibility studies on casinos in Kansas.
The filibuster worked. When supporters secured 21 votes in the 40-member Senate, they ended their talk and the voting started.
"I think it is very significant," Senate President Steve Morris said of passage of the legislation. "It will be positive for the state long term."
But the fight isn't over. Legal challenges to the bill are certain.
The Prairie Band Potawatomi, which operates Harrah's hotel-casino in Mayetta, said the bill violates the Kansas Constitution's requirement that the state own and operate the casinos. Under the bill, the casinos will be privately run. Four Native American casinos operate in northeast Kansas under compacts, but the state receives no share of their profits.
Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he expected the law to withstand a legal challenge.
"What I've seen is that there is a very loose definition as to what is state owned and operated," Bruce said.
But future legislative skirmishes are expected.
A so-called "trailer" bill will be considered Monday that removes Sumner County in south-central Kansas from the possibility of getting a destination casino, Bruce said. That would make Sedgwick County the possible location for a destination casino in that area, and the surrounding counties would get a portion of the revenue from that operation under the proposed bill.
Higher ed wants money
Meanwhile, state leaders already are promising revenue from future slots and casinos.
Sebelius said it's estimated the state will receive $200 million a year in revenue from gaming once the destination hotel-casinos are constructed.
"This new revenue will allow the state to meet key needs, such as deferred maintenance at Kansas universities and local property tax relief, while avoiding a tax increase," Sebelius said.
Regents universities, including Kansas University, have said they have a backlog of $663 million worth of repairs.
Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the regents, said in a prepared statement: "Because the issue of state university building maintenance grows only more expensive and more dangerous the longer it is put off, it is imperative that a significant amount of the newly generated gaming revenues soon be allocated specifically for the repair of the crumbling state-owned buildings on our university campuses."
Casinos and racetracks
The bill would permit hotel-and-casino complexes in Wyandotte County, Ford County, either Sedgwick or Sumner county and either Cherokee or Crawford county.
It also would permit 2,200 slot machines at the Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan., Wichita Greyhound Park and the now-closed Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac. An additional 600 machines would be permitted once the state had contracts with developers to operate the casinos.
The state would receive 22 percent of the casinos' revenues and 40 percent of the slot machines' revenues.
The development of casinos could take a couple of years, but slots could be installed at the tracks this year, Brungardt said.
Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, was seen as a key vote in pushing gambling over the top.
Goodwin, who had never voted for expanded gambling, said she believed that if it didn't pass this year it would have next year, and that this legislation and the proposed trailer bill would be better for her district than previous proposals.
"I had to make the judgment call," Goodwin said.
Barnett said his attempt to try to kill the bill had been "a gamble."
"Ultimately, the votes were there this session for gambling to pass. I felt like that was my best opportunity to stop the process from going forward," he said.
Barnett said the gambling bill was approved without proper committee hearings and public comment. The measure had been earlier adopted in the House as an amendment to another bill.
"The process broke down," he said.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Republican Party lashed out at Democrats, blaming them for the bill's passage even though 11 of the 21 votes to approve the bill were cast by Republican senators.