Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

State board hears pitches for casino plans

August 21, 2008

The Kansas Racing Commission on Friday gave local residents the opportunity to speak their minds - two minutes' worth, anyway - on the proposals of four developers vying for approval to manage a state-owned casino in Wyandotte County.

At a public hearing in the Kansas City Kansas Community College Performing Arts Center, each of the four casino proposals had a roughly equal number of proponents arguing for it, and speakers included a couple who didn't like the idea of any casino in the county.

The comments were heard by the seven-member Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board and the five-member Racing Commission, sitting onstage at two different tables, with each speaker addressing the bodies from a microphone left of the stage in the nearly full auditorium.

The proposal by Golden Gaming, for a 200-acre development with a casino and hotel in Edwardsville and an adjacent retail district in Bonner Springs, had its share of boosters.

Mary Shields, Edwardsville, said she was "impressed by Golden Gaming's honesty" when the company approached her about an option to buy her land.

Shields said she liked the Golden proposal also because it was "not another cookie cutter" plan, but instead incorporates the natural resources of the area.

Several speakers argued for the Sun-Legends plan for a casino near the I-70 and I-435 interchange, saying the developer, RED Development, was a good corporate citizen.

Company representatives for Kansas Entertainment LLC, in their Aug. 13 presentation to the board for their proposal for a 1.5 million-square foot Hard Rock Hotel and Casino resort at 821 Speedway Blvd., said they would request another annual NASCAR race for the Speedway if their plan was selected.

Jerry Lund spoke Friday in favor of the Kansas Entertainment proposal on those grounds, arguing that the promise of an extra race and the estimated $110 million it would bring in economic benefits to the area was reason enough to choose it, though he said "all the projects are great."

Kansas Entertainment is a joint venture of the Cordish Company, which operates the downtown Kansas City, Mo., Power and Light District, and the Kansas Speedway.

School District help

A few speakers argued for the proposal from PNK-Kansas, or Pinnacle, planned for the corner of Interstate 435 and Parallel Parkway, on the basis that the proposal's casino would be located in the Kansas City, Kan., school district, which could most use the money of any of the school districts in the region.

Jill Shackelford, superintendent for the district, said 80 percent of USD 500 students live in poverty and the economic benefit to the surrounding community should be the most important issue for the board to consider when choosing a casino proposal.

Wendy Wilson, another proponent of the Pinnacle proposal, said the school district had "the greatest need of any Kansas district."

Also, she said, in addition to the estimated $7 million in property taxes the company would add to the district's coffers, Pinnacle's contract includes a $1 million bonus it would pay to the district upon first receiving its gaming license and another $1 million each following year.

Another few speakers argued that the Legends Sun proposal should be chosen because the Piper School District could use the money.

Questions for developers

State Senator Chris Steineger, Kansas City, Kan.-D., didn't endorse any proposal but told the board that regardless of the claims by the four companies as to the revenues their proposals will generate, "the money will turn out to be the same."

That's because, he said, the free market in the long term will bring to bear the same pressures on whichever proposal becomes reality, so a more important question, he said, should be "how much new infrastructure with developers' money" each proposal will bring to the area?

Also, he said, another question was, "which proposal reaches out to the unemployed or underemployed," in providing job training and hiring?

Two former Edwardsville city officials spoke, with former Mayor and City Council member Woody Berry and former City Council member John Broman advocating for the Golden Gaming proposal.

"It's a good location," Berry said, and Broman said the 510-unit Raintree Apartments development coming to the corner of 94th Street and Metropolitan Avenue could provide nearby residences for the casino's employees.

Another former Edwardsville official, Doug Spangler, former city administrator, didn't argue for any one proposal but told the board to consider foremost the revenue and financing for each plan, with an eye to which one could most reduce the "public debt" and to finance the building of infrastructure to make way for "mega-development."

Former property owners

raise legality concerns

A few speakers said their land was condemned to make way for the Speedway without fair compensation and that the use of the same land for the casino proposed by Kansas Entertainment would be illegal under the state law that allows a state-owned, privately managed casino in each of four state regions.

Donna Laughery, who now lives in Basehor, said her parents' land was condemned and bought, and "the government didn't even treat us like we were human : Please consider the people," she said. On the verge of tears, she said, "it's been a nightmare" and that her mother committed suicide as a result of the trauma of losing her home.

Husband and wife Bill and Monica Goebbel told the board their convenience store on property condemned for the Speedway meant they went from making "six figures to just scraping by."

Another speaker, Kansas City, Kan., resident Robert Soptic, said he just wanted the board to do its work - and do it quickly.

"Are we ever gonna get to the end of these meetings?" Soptic asked. "I tell people, 'In 2098 we're gonna get a casino.'"

Soptic's remarks, which spilled over the 2-minute mark and a few apparently unheard reminders from the board, were greeted with applause when he finished.

Crystal Watson, president and CEO of the Kansas Black Chamber of Commerce, told the board "little or no mention has been made of contributions to minority groups" in the casino developers' presentations the previous two days.

Of the four companies, she said Pinnacle and the Speedway "have reached out" to work with minority-owned businesses and to hire minority workers.

For all four casino proposals there are agreements in place among the developers and the local governments on revenue sharing.

Developers' presentations

Two days of presentations from the would-be casino developers themselves, and one other group, preceded Friday's public hearing.

Officials with the city of Edwardsville gave a presentation to the board on Thursday, highlighting the advantages of the city's location for a casino.

"We didn't go to endorse our applicant," Mayor William "Heinz" Rodgers said.

The presentation, which included a Power Point slide show and a video, said Edwardsville made the best site choice because of location, access to nearby highways, equity, "ease of infrastructure implementation," "true realization of interlocal agreement" for revenue sharing between the three Wyandotte County cities, and that the city was "the best steward of the state's vision."

Golden Gaming made its presentation to the board the same day.

The three Kansas City, Kan., casinos each have revenue-sharing terms in their contracts giving the Unified Government 2.25 percent and Bonner Springs and Edwardsville each .375 percent of all gambling revenues.

Under its contract, the Golden Gaming casino would share 1.5 percent of the gambling revenues with the Unified Government, .75 percent with Edwardsville, and .375 each for Bonner Springs and Kansas City, Kan.

The contracts for all four Wyandotte County proposals pledge 2 percent of all gambling revenues to a "problem gambling and addictions fund."

Matt All, chairman of the Gaming Facility Review Board, told the audience at the hearing's conclusion that the board would "take all of your comments into consideration."

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposals Sept. 18 and 19, in Topeka, after hearing board consultants' reports on each proposal Sept. 2 and 3, and a conference call Sept. 9. The consultants' reports will be available on the Kansas Racing Commission's Web site at ksracing.org.

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