Some of the biggest names in gambling are courting Kansas officials for the opportunity to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a casino in Wyandotte County in direct competition against already established casinos in Kansas City, Mo.
And why do they think they can beat the riverboat casinos?
In part because Missouri casinos have a $500 loss limit. There is no loss limit under the Kansas law.
The "advantage" of no loss limit in Kansas was mentioned several times by casino developers who made their pitches last week to the state Lottery Commission.
The Missouri law limits the amount of money a single player can lose to $500 for every two hours at a gaming facility.
When Kansas passed its casino law in 2007, supporters of gambling pushed the proposal through without a loss limit.
In Missouri, critics of casino gaming are proud of the loss-limit regulation.
Evelio Silvera, executive director of Chesterfield, Mo.-based Casino Watch, said the loss limit reduces addictive gambling, helps with law enforcement, and - contrary to what casino operators say - doesn't really cut into a casino's profits.
At a Missouri casino, patrons must show identification and get a "player's card" that tracks losses. Silvera said that gives law enforcement knowledge of who is on the gambling floor. The $500 limit on losses inhibits money laundering and prevents problem gamblers from engaging in long periods of playing, he said.
"The state of Missouri gaming is extremely healthy, and that is with a $500 loss limit," Silvera said.
But several investors seeking to build a giant casino, hotel and entertainment complex in Wyandotte County see Missouri's loss limit as their potential gain.
In outlining their proposals to the Kansas Lottery Commission, Blake Sartini, co-owner of Golden Heartland, said Kansas' lack of a loss limit was an "obvious advantage." Golden Heartland affiliates own four casinos in Las Vegas and a chain of 45 taverns with gambling in Nevada.
William Weidner, chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., said his company's study of the Kansas City area showed "remove that $500 loss cap and the market is much larger than it appears."
Attempts to dump cap
Seeing casino plans on the drawing board on the Kansas side, Missouri casino operators are using the no-loss limit in Kansas as one of the reasons to try to remove the cap in Missouri.
Missouri casinos have gathered 160,000 voter signatures to support putting on the November ballot a measure to repeal the loss limit. The casinos have cast the issue as helping Missouri public schools by proposing to increase the casinos' tax rate from 20 percent of gross revenue to 21 percent, which would produce more than $100 million annually that could be used for the school system.
The Missouri Gaming Commission's official position is that the loss limit puts Missouri at a disadvantage and "doesn't do what it was designed to do," said LeAnn McCarthy, public information coordinator for the commission. "If you want to lose beyond $500, you can go to another casino."
Silvera, however, disagreed with the argument that Missouri must get rid of its loss limit to compete with Kansas' proposed casinos.
"This is how they (casino owners) roll in every state. Use the mask of education to get what they want," he said.
Studies show, Silvera said, that the most important factors luring patrons to casinos are proximity and associated amenities, such as restaurants and entertainment.
Casino developers talking to the Lottery Commission also emphasized their projects' amenities, such as golf courses, closeness to the Kansas Speedway, entertainment and resort hotels.
Weidner with the Sands summed it up saying, "We have to be the anti-Missouri."
The Kansas Lottery Commission this week is scheduled to vote on contracts proposed by casino developers in Wyandotte County and two other areas of the state. In addition to the Sands and Golden Heartland, others in the race in Wyandotte County include Kansas Entertainment, Legends Sun and Pinnacle Entertainment. The commission's decisions will be forwarded to another board, which will select a winner later this year.
Meanwhile, the question of whether the Kansas casino law complies with the state constitutional requirement that the gambling games be state-owned and operated is expected to be decided soon by the state Supreme Court.