In 2007, the Kansas Legislature passed expanded gaming legislation, allowing Wyandotte County the opportunity to have a destination casino.
It was clear that Kansas was appropriately interested in a moderate, orderly approach to casino gaming, calling for a minimum of several hundred million dollars of capital investment. Kansas’ approach has been successful, providing our state with hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for Kansans. Kansas City, Kan., is home to the Hollywood Casino, which is a quality addition to the successful Village West area. The local government created a vision of quality development that would not only attract new visitors to the area but also provide services the people of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County so well deserved.
For each major development, such as Kansas Speedway, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela’s and Legends, we negotiated development agreements to ensure that this high-quality, well-planned process continued. Under the leadership of my successor, Joe Reardon, this process of creating development agreements with our partners lived on.
As a result, we now see the successful development of Children’s Mercy Park, home of Sporting KC; Cerner office buildings; Schlitterbahn; and Hollywood Casino.
When International Speedway Corp. and Penn Gaming won the right to develop and operate the casino in Wyandotte County, they not only invested more than $300 million but committed additional revenue beyond the required state and local government’s share: 1 percent annually for community organizations in Wyandotte County, $500,000 for charitable organizations, $500,000 annually split among non-host school districts, $100,000 to Wyandotte County Parks and Recreation, $25,000 annually to Wyandotte County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, and $10,000 annually to the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, among others. This was included in the development agreement with the Unified Government.
All of this is being put at risk by the new owner of the Woodlands, who is seeking a substantial increase in slot revenue for himself, greatly differing from what was agreed upon in current state law. This is an issue in Topeka, and it is before the Unified Government. In April, the Unified Government Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special-use permit that would allow thoroughbred racing and slot machines at the Woodlands.
Although this approval contained a number of stipulations, it did not include requiring a specific development agreement with Mr. Phil Ruffin, the owner. In order to protect the community’s interests, the Woodlands should be required to develop and sign an agreement to ensure that promises made are promises kept.
On April 3, The Star’s editorial, “Wyandotte County's comeback is also great news for the metro area,” praised the growth in Wyandotte County. It was a reminder of how far we have come.
We have much in which we can be proud. But if we aren’t careful and don’t remain diligent in demanding good deals for our community, our prosperity will be at risk. We urge the Unified Government to be thoughtful and deliberate in demanding a thorough development agreement with the new Woodlands’ owner and others who want to partner in our community.
Carol Marinovich is a former mayor of the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County and leads a coalition of local civic and business organizations opposed to reopening the Kansas gaming act, ProtectThePartnership.org.