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Wichita casino owner buys Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City, Kan.

The Woodlands, which had greyhound, Thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, has been bought by businessman Phil Ruffin from owner Howard Grace for an undisclosed amount.
The Woodlands, which had greyhound, Thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, has been bought by businessman Phil Ruffin from owner Howard Grace for an undisclosed amount. The Kansas City Star

There hasn’t been racing at the Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City, Kan., since 2008, but that could change in the near future.

The Woodlands, which had greyhound, Thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, has been bought by businessman Phil Ruffin from owner Howard Grace for an undisclosed amount.

Ruffin, who made his fortune as a Wichita businessman and now lives in Las Vegas, already owns two shuttered greyhound tracks in Kansas, Wichita Greyhound Park in Park City and Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac, which he also hopes to reopen. In Las Vegas, he owns the Treasure Island casino and hotel.

While the sale of the track does not need the approval of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, Ruffin would have to apply for new licenses to run a racetrack and casino.

Mark Evans, president of the Kansas Thoroughbred Association, said: “We want to get racing back in Kansas. As a horsemen, I want to see the track open.”

Ruffin’s purchase comes two months after the Kansas Senate passed a bill that would give greater financial incentive for a developer to reopen the Woodlands.

The bill would allow 2,800 slot machines, 600 more than were earmarked for the track under a law adopted in 2007. The bill also would increase the facility manager’s take of revenue to 64.5 percent from 25 percent, the same amount casinos with slot machines currently get. The state would get 22 percent and Wyandotte County would receive 2 percent, while 10 percent would go to purses for horse races.

It is uncertain whether greyhound racing would return to the Woodlands if it reopened. The bill only includes funds for purses for horse races.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, introduced the bill and was instrumental in getting it through the Kansas Senate.

He said Friday that the chance of the Woodlands reopening is much greater than it has been in the past and that he would not be surprised if other parties became involved.

“This is a good bill,” Fitzgerald said after it passed the Senate 24-12 in May. “If this works, I believe, it will benefit the whole state. …

“I ran and won based on my support to reopen the Woodlands. If I don’t bring home the pork or bacon, whichever your taste is, it’s not going to be good. In this case, this is definitely in the interest of the district.”

Fitzgerald said he believes that the bill has strong support and can make it through the Kansas House in the next session, which starts in January.

Ruffin told The Wichita Eagle that he expects to hire 500 to 700 people to operate the Woodlands if it reopens.

“If we could tie all three tracks in, put them all to bed, we could employ roughly 2,000 people,” Ruffin said. “Two thousand people. It’s a jobs bill. …

“There are people in the government that don’t really care about that, but it’s a big deal. A very, very big deal. You can’t find 2,000 jobs anywhere.”

To get all three tracks open, Ruffin wants the tax rate lowered at Camptown and slots to be approved for Wichita Greyhound Park, which closed in 2007.

If he isn’t able to reopen the Woodlands track, Ruffin said, he still believes he made a good investment because of the track’s location near Kansas Speedway, Sporting Park, the Legends outlet shopping area and other attractions.

“It’s got a great location,” he said. “I’ve got … a 400-acre piece of ground. Still valuable.”

The Wichita Eagle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To reach Tom Smith, call 816-234-4240 or send email to tomsmith@kcstar.com.

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