Government & Politics

Bills would rewrite 2007 law, allow new vote on slots

TOPEKA — Supporters of expanded gambling in Kansas hoped Thursday that the promise of new revenues for the state would overcome legislators' reluctance to tinker with an existing law allowing casinos and slot machines at racetracks.

Separate but identical bills in the House and Senate are designed to resolve issues keeping a developer from building a casino in southeast Kansas or track owners from installing slots. Backers think the changes could generate $40 million for the state within a year.

The House Appropriations Committee introduced a bill Thursday, a day after the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee filed one.

Each bill would rewrite a 2007 law allowing one casino in each of four areas and slot machines at racetracks in Kansas City, Wichita and southeast Kansas. Track owners and others have argued flaws in the law prevented a full expansion of gambling.

Both bills would allow Sedgwick County to vote again on whether to allow slots at Wichita Greyhound Park. Voters rejected a previous proposal in 2007.

Supporters of expanded gambling wanted to rewrite the law last year, but top House and Senate leaders, all Republicans, didn't want to reopen the often-difficult debate over gambling.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, didn't rule out having a gambling debate this year.

But opposition is stronger from the House's more conservative GOP leaders.

The 2007 law says the tracks can operate slots and developers can build and operate casinos under contracts with the Kansas Lottery. But the lottery doesn't have any prospective developers for a casino in Crawford or Cherokee county.

The 2007 law requires a developer to invest $225 million in the venture and pay a $25 million fee up front. Both bills would require a $100 million investment and an $11 million fee to the state.

The lottery also hasn't been able to agree on a contract with the owners of The Woodlands dog- and horse-racing park in Kansas City or Camptown Greyhound Park, near Pittsburg. The owners say their share of the net revenue — capped at 40 percent — is too small for slots to be profitable.

Both bills would give the track owners 58 percent.

Also, both measures would permit slots at two racetracks with only short summer seasons: Anthony Downs in Harper County and Eureka Downs in Greenwood County. Neither could have slots under the 2007 law.