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Archive for Monday, May 19, 2008

Analysis: Lottery gambles on court ruling

May 19, 2008

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— In the world of gambling, it's about the odds.

Right now, the Kansas Lottery is betting that a law enacted last year allowing it to own and operate four resort casinos and have slot machines at race tracks is constitutional.

So is Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, but just to make sure, she asked the attorney general's office to get a definitive ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to quell any doubts.

Last week, the justices heard arguments on the law's validity and the key question of what state-owned and operated really means. Does it mean the Lottery must own everything from the carpets to the dice cups? Or does it mean the Lottery owns the games and has controls over the operations?

The ownership issue arises because of how the Kansas Constitution is written and how the court once interpreted it.

In 1986, Kansans rewrote the Constitution to say the Legislature could create a state-owned and operated lottery, which lawmakers did the following year. Then, the Supreme Court said in 1994 the term "lottery" is broad enough to include slot machines and other casino games.

That gave legislators an opening to create casinos they say are owned and operated by Lottery. They also gave the Lottery authority to contract with developers to built and run the facilities.

Oddsmakers bet the justices will uphold the law.

They point to a lower court ruling in February that upheld the law. That ruling said nothing in the law prohibits the Lottery from taking the steps needed to exercise ownership and control of the casinos.

Yet when it comes to handicapping the court, the only certainty is that there will be a ruling.

"You can't predict what the court is going to do. My feeling is our arguments were the stronger arguments, but most people will tell you that after going to the court," said Ed Van Petten, Lottery executive director.

Van Petten is no novice with the court. As deputy attorney general, he argued before the justices numerous times.

"There is no way to have a preconception of their attitudes. You have seven individuals who are just that, individuals," he said.

While the court deliberates, the state is moving toward the eventual awarding of management contracts for casinos in Wyandotte, Cherokee, Sumner and Ford counties.

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