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Casinos come up winners

DATE OF EVENT: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1992

DATE PUBLISHED: Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1992, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: Kansas City voters approved riverfront gambling in February 1992, and Missouri citizens followed suit in November. By the end of the year, three companies — Promus Cos., Hilton Hotels Corp. and Boyd Gaming Corp. — had submitted proposals for casinos, and the first boats opened their doors in 1994.

Drawn by promises of jobs, millions in investment and maybe a chance to win a few dollars themselves, voters in Kansas City and North Kansas City handily approved riverboat gambling Tuesday.

Officials of both cities were generally ecstatic with the outcome.

“I think this is greatest thing that’s happened to the riverfront since Kansas City was founded,” Kansas City Councilman George Blackwood said. “It’s going to be a great project.”

His colleague, Chuck Weber, called it a “milestone” for the city, adding, “The fun’s going to start now.”

North Kansas City Councilman Gene Owen shared the same sentiment.

“I couldn’t be happier for the city or Clay County,” said Owen, who pushed the measure from the start. “All the dreams we wished for over the years can now be fulfilled.”

Kansas City voters approved the measure by a 55-45 ratio. The North Kansas City proposition carried with 60 percent of the vote.

Not everyone was happy with the prospect of slot machines and blackjack tables in the area’s future.

“This is not going to be a blessing for Kansas City,” said Bishop John J. Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

He was one of several religious leaders who came out in opposition to riverboat gambling last week.

Only about 20 percent of Kansas City’s registered voters went to the polls. Riverboat gambling was the only issue on the Kansas City ballot, and election officials said the turnout was about average for a special election.

The turnout was considerably higher in North Kansas City, where nearly 50 percent of the registered voters went to the polls.

North Kansas City voters defied the general trend in the Northland, where Kansas City residents in Clay and Platte counties voted mostly no on the River Market riverboat gambling proposal. …

But in the meantime, next on the agenda in both cities is land negotiation.

In Kansas City, the Port Authority has selected Hilton to operate the floating casino. Now the City Council has to decide whether to lease riverfront land near the foot of Grand Avenue to the authority. The port authority then would enter into a lease with Hilton.

Kansas City Councilwoman Sally Johnson said she was reluctant to see the city relinquish control of the land.

“I just have some concerns with that much control going to an outside agency,” she said.

North Kansas City has given Promus until March 30 to conclude a lease agreement for 60 acres of city land west of Chouteau Bridge.

The Kansas City campaign didn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm among the public, but that didn’t stop Hilton from spending a large sum to promote the issue.

The company paid $200,000 toward the $220,000 in election costs. It also spent at least $180,000 in advertising and other expenses.

Campaign literature mailed to voters painted riverboat gambling as a bonanza for the city and state. One brochure said Hilton would pay the state $102 million in taxes and the city $22.5 million in rent over the first five years of operation.

Promus also underwrote the election in North Kansas City and paid for a public relations campaign.

Organized opposition didn’t surface in Kansas City until last Friday, when 18 religious leaders representing most of Missouri’s Christian denominations called a news conference to denounce riverboat gambling.