Topeka — Kansas House members refused Monday to take up a bill aimed at attracting a casino to the state's southeast corner, and they may consider intervening in a casino project south of Wichita.
The House voted 71-51 against a request from Rep. Bob Grant, a Cherokee Democrat, to pull the southeast Kansas casino bill out of the Federal and State Affairs Committee. The panel hasn't even had a hearing, and its chairman isn't interested in pursuing changes to a 2007 law allowing state-owned casinos.
Meanwhile, members of the chamber's Republican majority anticipated a debate this week on a resolution directing Attorney General Derek Schmidt to file a lawsuit over the state Racing and Gaming Commission's decision in January to allow an Iowa company to build a casino in Mulvane, about 18 miles south of Wichita.
Prominent House Republicans, who opposed the casino law in 2007, contend the commission rushed the decision. They argue legislators shouldn't consider rewriting the statute until the issue is resolved, and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday a lawsuit could clear up any lingering questions.
"That puts a cloud on anything that we do going forward, so a number of people want to see that resolved first," said House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican.
Grant said he's frustrated because he believes his bill to help southeast Kansas would be close to having enough votes to pass if he could get it out of committee. He also said his effort shouldn't be tangled up in questions about the Wichita-area project.
"It wasn't before. Why is it now?" he said. "They don't like going around the system. I don't like it either, but they're giving me no choice."
The measure, which became law four years ago, allows a single state-owned casino each in the Dodge City area, the Wichita area, the state's portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area and either Crawford or Cherokee county. The Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the new gambling and the gambling equipment, and the state gets 22 percent of the gambling revenues; the racing commission regulates the casinos.
A casino opened in December 2009 in Dodge City, and one is under construction at Kansas Speedway, the NASCAR track in Kansas City. Peninsula Gaming, based in Dubuque, Iowa, has started work on the Mulvane casino.
But the lottery has no proposals for a casino in southeast Kansas, and some legislators believe the $225 million minimum investment required by law scares off developers because of competition from Indian casinos in Oklahoma. Grant's bill, also sponsored by Rep. Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat, would drop the required investment to $100 million.
"People in my area and Doug's area voted that they want gaming. What's the problem?" Grant said. "This is just, to me, stifling debate, and it's not being fair to the people in southeast Kansas."
Brunk pointed out that legislators enacted the law in 2007 exactly as casino supporters insisted.
"Now they've changed their mind, now that there's a little competition across the street in Oklahoma," he said.
Anti-casino Republicans want the courts to review the racing commission's decision on the Mulvane project over several issues, including a misdemeanor criminal case in Iowa. Peninsula and two executives are charged with participating in an illegal, $25,000 contribution to Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, who lost his bid for re-election last year.
A trial is set for June, but Peninsula officials have said repeatedly that they expect the case to be resolved in their favor. And some Kansas legislators contend a misdemeanor conviction wouldn't be serious enough to bar Peninsula or its executives, anyway.
Brownback told reporters Monday that while he doesn't have a position on the resolution, he doesn't think a lawsuit would hurt other casino projects.
"The questions that have been raised have been ones about the appropriateness of the steps that have been taken thus far," Brownback said. "It seems like, to me, if anything, it clears up questions rather than has a chilling effect on future casinos."