Archive for Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wyandotte County officials hail passage of gambling questions

June 27, 2007

Kansas City, Kan. -- The crowd was giddy with anticipation before it turned raucous with celebration Tuesday night at the Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City, Kan.

It was celebrating approval of a gambling referendum by more than 80 percent of Wyandotte County voters to allow a state-owned casino in the county and slot machines at the Woodlands. Gambling proponents began celebrating their presumed victory at 7 p.m.

Of the county's 84,387 registered voters, 19,797 votes were cast, for a 23.5 percent turnout.

It was a safe bet, after all: In a 1996 nonbinding referendum, 82 percent of participating voters had said yes to a casino in the county, and there was no organized opposition to this year's initiative.

After about 75 of the county's 111 precincts' results appeared on the dozens of screens in the restaurant and bar at the Woodlands displaying election results, Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Cash called approximately 200 business and government leaders there to gather around a lectern and with her cheer "Yes!"

Then Cash introduced mayors Joe Reardon, Clausie Smith and Heinz Rodgers, of Kansas City, Kan., Bonner Springs and Edwardsville respectively.

Cash and the mayors led a toast for the approval of each question on the ballot before each mayor spoke, with a "Yes!" and a drink for each.

The county's vote, Reardon said, "lays a foundation for great things to come in Bonner Springs, Edwardsville and Kansas City, Kan."

Citing an interlocal agreement among the three cities in Wyandotte County, Reardon told the crowd "that we will get the highest quality of development and lift every corner of this county."

Alluding to the same agreement, which guarantees a minimum percentage share of tax revenue for each city, he said: "No matter where the casino goes, each city is a winner."

The construction of the privately run, state-owned casino is expected to begin in two to three years, Reardon said at a previous news conference.

Jayme LaRocca, general manager of the Woodlands, said he expected the temporary placement of 800 slot machines in the facility's grandstands as soon as early 2008, while a permanent building to house them would be completed by the fall of 2008.

Smith also continued to cheer the results Wednesday.

"This a tremendous economic opportunity for all Wyandotte County," Smith said. "This will benefit all residents of three communities. It will provide jobs, increase the tax base to lower property taxes and increase the quality of life in our county."

Marcia Alford, economic development director for Bonner Springs, agreed.

There's a large potential, Ashford said, for retail development to spring up around the casino.

"It probably has a lot of potential for all three cities," Ashford said. "I think there would be a mushroom effect of continued development around the casino. Even if it's in KCK, I see overflow coming to Bonner Springs and even Edwardsville."

The passage of the referendum also pleased the Kickapoo Tribe, which has been planning a casino in Kansas City, Kan., since well before the state legalized gambling.

"Today is a great day for Wyandotte County, the state of Kansas and in fact, our entire region," said Steve Cadue, Kickapoo Tribe chairman. "Voters have confirmed what we have known for over a decade. Gaming is an entertaining and viable industry with substantial revenue opportunity for our communities."

In 2004 the Kickapoo Tribe and the Sac and Fox Nation tribes jointly purchased an 80-acre tract on the northeast corner of the intersection of 118th Street and State Avenue adjacent to the Kansas Speedway and Village West shopping center, with the goal of building a destination casino in Wyandotte County.A Kansas law passed this spring allows gambling in four areas of the state. Ford County voters on Tuesday also approved a destination casino for Dodge City. Crawford County conducted its advisory election in 2004, Cherokee County voters approved their June 2 referendum on the issue and Sedgwick County will vote Aug. 7.

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