Even though the 2007 law expanding gambling in the state of Kansas hasn’t worked out quite as hoped, area legislators said in a pre-session forum that they didn’t expect the issue to be revisited this year.
They were wrong. It’s unclear at this point how far the bill will get, but the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee has scheduled hearings today on a proposal to allow horse and dog tracks in the state to keep a higher percentage of their slot machine revenues. The proposal on the table would increase the tracks’ take from 25 percent to 43 percent and lower the state’s share from 40 percent to just 22 percent.
The main reason for the proposed change is simple: to try to entice someone to take the state up on its offer to expand gambling in the state. So far, the Kansas Lottery, which oversees the state-owned gaming operations, has been unable to negotiate any agreements with track owners, who say the small percentage of revenues they would receive makes the deal unworkable.
This is a complicated issue politically, and reopening the gaming issue would open a can of worms that could end up making things worse, rather than better, for gaming operators. Reconsidering this issue may magnify the ambivalence many legislators probably felt in approving expanded gambling in the first place. Although the moral issues associated with increased gaming in the state apparently were put to rest, they could come back to life, especially if the state’s expected revenue estimates are reduced.
Some legislators likely voted for the original legislation only because of the revenue it promised for the state. If that revenue is reduced, their support may soften. Many lawmakers probably are willing to let the current law stand, at least for now, in hopes that track operators will be willing to accept its terms once the economic climate improves.
Two years isn’t a long time when it comes to determining whether this law will work. Lawmakers hoped track owners would jump at the state’s new gaming deal, but the fact that hasn’t happened probably rests with a number of factors, not just the percentages set in the original law.
The revenue clearly hasn’t lived up to the glowing estimates made by advocates of expanded gambling, but only two years after the law’s passage and during an economic slump seems like the wrong time to tinker with the state’s terms.