It’s been a long time coming, and now the region will see if its newest attraction can live up to the hype.
The ribbon will be cut and doors will open for the first phase of the $411 million Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway just before noon today.
Bringing with it 1,000 jobs, the casino will have an estimated economic impact of $220 million, said Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council. The Unified Government this week reported that to date the project has infused close to $60 million into Wyandotte County’s design and construction industries.
“I think what it shows is the continued dynamic nature of the Wyandotte County economy and the opportunity for growth,” Kindle said, adding that the casino would be a “linchpin for ongoing development near the speedway and Village West.”
In Lawrence, a 30-minute drive from the casino, reaction to the casino opening is mixed.
Hank Booth, interim president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said he did not think the casino would do much to attract new visitors to Lawrence. But he also said he didn’t think the casino would significantly siphon off dollars from the Lawrence economy.
“I think anything that makes this part of the state more attractive to people who are thinking about living here or locating a business here is a good thing for Lawrence and the state as a whole,” Booth said. “Right now, a lot of the dollars spent on casinos are going over the state line. Keeping that money in Kansas will be good.”
But if the convenience of the new casino causes more Lawrence residents to take up gambling as a hobby, some social service providers fear there will be a larger need for gambling addiction treatment in Lawrence.
Duane Olberding, executive director of Professional Treatment Services LLC in Lawrence, said about 1 percent to 2 percent of people who gamble end up with addiction problems. He said he has no doubt that the new casino will attract new entrants into the gambling world.
“They’re making a big splash with their opening,” Olberding said.
But unlike treatment services available for drug and alcohol addictions, treatment services for gambling addictions may be less well-known. Joe Stiles, senior pastor at First Southern Baptist Church, said he knows where to refer people who need help for substance abuse problems, but he wasn’t sure what services existed for those with gambling problems in Lawrence.
DCCCA, one of the area’s leading providers of treatments services for drug and alcohol problems, does not have any counselors certified in treating gambling addictions.
The casino fervor began in 2007, when the state approved the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act allowing state-owned but privately operated casinos in Wyandotte County and three other areas of the state.
Two months later, 80 percent of Wyandotte County residents voted to approve a state-owned casino in the county. Bonner Springs, Edwardsville and Kansas City, Kan., also approved a revenue-sharing agreement: Of the 3 percent of gambling revenues set aside for local governments, 1.5 percent would go to the county, 0.75 percent to the city in which the casino was located and 0.75 percent split between the other two cities.
A flurry of proposals came before all three municipalities and the Kansas Lottery Commission, and the state extended the deadline to agree to contracts with prospective casino developers. It approved four proposals for Wyandotte County and in September 2008 selected the proposal from Kansas Entertainment LLC for a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at the speedway.
But at the end of the year, the group withdrew its bid, citing the economy. In April 2009, three applicants came forward: the Hard Rock once again at the speedway, as well as Hollywood Casino near the Schlitterbahn Water Park and Golden Heartland Casino near the speedway in Edwardsville.
Golden Heartland dropped out, and then came another shake-up in September 2009: The Cordish Group, International Speedway Corp.’s partner in Kansas Entertainment LLC for the Hard Rock Casino, was bought out of the partnership by Penn National Gaming. Penn National dropped its application for the casino near Schlitterbahn, and the Kansas Entertainment proposal, now with Penn National’s Hollywood theme, was the sole remaining applicant for the Wyandotte County casino.
The state approved Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway at the end of 2009. Gaming and financial consultants hired to advise the Kansas Lottery Gaming Facilities Review Board estimated the casino would generate more than $203 million in gaming revenues in 2013.
Bob Sheldon, general manager of the casino, said Penn National agrees with this estimate, and they expect it to do as well as their other Kansas City property, the Argosy Casino.
“We anticipate that in comparison to Argosy, I believe we’ll be in the same ballpark as far as our revenues,” Sheldon said. “We’re similar-size facilities and have similar amenities.”
The casino project covered 245,000 square feet of construction, including the 95,000 square feet on the casino floor. The casino has 40 table games, plus 12 poker tables, meaning room for 2,000 gaming players, as well as 2,000 electronic machines and four restaurants.
Sheldon said work continues to find a hotel partner for the second phase of the development.