There’s not a lot of activity at the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission right now.
In fact, business is so slow that Stephen Martino, executive director of the agency, announced this week that he would lay off 11 employees and reduce the hours of 10 others effective Feb. 7.
That certainly seems like an appropriate action, although it might have come even sooner. The staff reductions will come two months after the number of active casino projects in Kansas dwindled to one, the Boot Hill Casino and Resort in Dodge City. The developer chosen to build and manage a casino complex in Wyandotte County said it would resubmit a phased-in plan for that project, and the state has reopened casino applications there, as well as in Sumner and Cherokee counties, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see those projects delayed for some time by the nation’s economic crisis.
The downturn in the state’s gaming fortunes will create some additional holes in the state budget. When the expanded gambling law was passed, legislators hoped the state eventually would reap $200 million a year from casinos and slot machines at three race tracks. Now, with most casino plans on hold and no tracks willing to take the state’s deal on slot machines, the state expects to see only a privilege fee from the Dodge City development this year and maybe $6 million in gambling revenue for fiscal year 2010.
Nonetheless, Douglas County legislators said at a forum Thursday night that they didn’t expect lawmakers to revisit the casino legislation or consider sweetening the pot for gambling operators by increasing the percentage of profits they receive. Expanded gaming is an issue that still triggers considerable emotion in the Legislature, they said. The withdrawal of casino plans was a result of the current economy, not the deal the state was offering, they added, and when times get better, the state will be able to find casino developers.
Maybe so, but, in the meantime, most of the gaming revenue legislators were hoping for will continue to go to Missouri and Oklahoma — and those laid-off employees from the Racing and Gaming Commission might be wanting to look for other work.