Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Gaming initiative sets sights on Wyandotte County

Expanded gaming measure could place casino near tourist attractions in Kansas City, Kan.

January 15, 2004

Officials from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County are optimistic a gaming initiative proposed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will find support on both sides of the aisle during the Legislative sessions.

"We're extremely pleased with the committee's recommendation," Unified Government spokesman Don Denney said. "Mayor (Carol) Marinovich has spoken with the governor and our staff has spoken with theirs. We're all very, very excited with what the governor has proposed.

"Without question, greed is the only thing that could stifle this," he added.

This week, Matt All, the governor's chief legal counsel, told state lawmakers in Topeka that Sebelius will propose expanded gambling in Kansas. All said Sebelius would file her proposal as legislation in the next two weeks.

The governor commissioned a panel to study the legality and effects surrounding the issue of gaming in Kansas. In its report, the committee determined "the benefits of expanded gaming outweigh its costs," and that the state "should expand gaming in a limited, responsible fashion."

At the heart of the governor's proposal rests Wyandotte County, where voters have expressed support for legalized gaming, and which features the state's top tourism destinations to support it.

The governor's plan is to place a state-owned and operated resort destination casino near the Village West tourism district in Kansas City, Kan. The top three tourism destinations in Kansas -- the Kansas Speedway, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela's -- are all within the confines of Village West.

"If the state expands gaming, it should begin there," the commission's report states. "Although other communities may seek to attract gaming sites, the state should allow this only under limited circumstances and should duly account for these communities' more limited markets and greater political resistance."

A casino in Wyandotte County would have the support of the community, county officials contend.

Denney points to a 1996 non-binding referendum in which 82 percent of the public voted in favor of gaming on this side of the state line.

"There still remains a very strong interest from the community," he said.

If the plan becomes reality, Kansas would become the first state in the country to own and operate a casino, a distinction not lost on the Sebelius administration.

"Taking the plunge into full-blown gaming presents the state with significant ethical and economic risks," according to the governor's committee report. "The state should thus enter this territory with extreme caution."

Because the Kansas constitution generally prohibits gaming, without a constitutional amendment, the casinos can only exist if they are state owned, or operated by Indian tribes.

Denney said Unified Government and the governor continue to negotiate with the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes, two tribes interested in building a casino in Wyandotte County.

The two tribes have an option to purchase 80 acres near the Kansas Speedway and would use 40 acres for a destination casino and the remaining land for businesses complimenting the casino.

The proposed facility would include an 80,000 square foot casino with 2,800 gaming positions, 1,000 food and beverage seats, a 250-room hotel and a 12,000 to 16,000 square foot conference facility.

The governor is also seeking expanded gaming at horse and dog racing tracks, which would allow tracks such as the Woodlands to house video lottery terminals inside.

The Woodlands racetrack has been located in Wyandotte County since 1989; the racetrack proposes expanding facilities to include a 52,000 square foot gaming floor with 2,000 electronic gaming positions and 30 to 40 table games.

Denney said a casino near Village West would infuse the county with even more revenue generated by tourism. And, gaming inside the Woodlands could revive business at the track, which in recent years has been sporadic, he added.

"It's the best scenario in the best of worlds," Denney said.

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