Archive for Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Tribes lobbying state for casino

Development near Kansas Speedway would include resort hotel

March 26, 2003

Representatives of the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe and Sac and Fox nation are betting that a resort hotel and casino would be a good deal for Kansas.

Here's what they plan.

This architect's rendering shows a proposed casino development near
the Kansas Speedway, about 12 miles east of Tonganoxie.

This architect's rendering shows a proposed casino development near the Kansas Speedway, about 12 miles east of Tonganoxie.

The tribes already have an option on 80 acres just northwest of Kansas Speedway. And, they've selected a Kansas City, Mo., construction firm to build the $175 million facility.

But first there's the groundwork to lay.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and tribal representatives must negotiate a compact and a transfer of land purchased by the tribes into a trust, which will be presented to the Legislature.

Legislators cannot change provisions of the compact. They may only vote for or against it. If approved, the tribes move the case to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior where they must have approval before moving forward with their plan.

If approved, the tribes hope to begin construction by the end of this year, with the casino opening in the summer of 2004 and the hotel opening a year later.

Seeing both sides

Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, serves as chairman of the subcommittee which is evaluating four proposals for expanded gambling.

"Some of the representatives of the Indians are in Washington right now, talking with some of the Kansas Congress people and the Department of the Interior in attempts to do whatever is necessary to get this through," Lyon said.

Lyon's not sure if Sebelius will actively push for a new tribal casino.

"The governor has said she's somewhat open to the idea of the Indian business," Lyon said. "But it appears she's working toward slots and tracks right now."

Lyon said conservative lawmakers may be more apt to vote for a new tribal casino, rather than slot machines.

And, he said, some lawmakers say they're in favor of the new tribal casino if the tribes shut down the two casinos in Brown County.

"I think the attraction for some of the anti-gaming folks is that the state would end up with one fewer casino than there is now," Lyon said. "Their fear with the racetrack slot proposal is that this is just one more step down the road for future expansion of gambling in the state."

In the past, Lyon has been vocal in his opposition to gambling.

"I struggle with the government really stepping into that expanded role where they become not only a regulator, but also a promoter of expanded gambling," Lyon said. "I just have a real problem with government stepping into that role and using that as a revenue source and being a primary promoter of gaming in the state of Kansas. I haven't been convinced yet that this is good public policy for Kansas."

Exclusivity: right or wrong

The part of the tribal plan that doesn't sit well with other legislators, including Rep. Ken Wilk, R-Lansing, is that the tribes want the state to agree that they can operate the only casino in Kansas.

Moreover, they want the state to continue to prohibit slot machines at racetracks. In return for the exclusive gaming agreement, the tribes have said they would turn over a certain amount of the casino's profit to the state. Currently, there are tribal casinos in Kansas, but none of those directly contributes to the state's coffers.

"What percentage the state takes is fully negotiable," Wilk said. "The number can run anywhere from a conservative $40 million to $50 million up to $100 million a year."

This could be tempting at a time when the state's budget deficit is predicted to be in the hundreds of millions by year's end.

Wilk estimated that by the end of June, the state would face a shortfall of more than $700 million.

"It's closer to $723 million now and it's heading further south," Wilk said.

But even if the state's haul from a casino totaled $100 million, it's not a fix the state should bank on, Wilk said.

"It's a lot of money," Wilk said. "And it would be helpful, but it would not -- nor do I think anyone should think that it gambling could be a cure-all for the budget -- it is not."

On the border

Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, said, when it comes to gaming, he would likely be more supportive of a different plan under consideration.

"Right now the governor wants slot machines at racetracks, with additional slots in Dodge City," Cox said.

This would mean slot machines would be allowed at four Kansas locations -- the tracks at the Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan., Pittsburg, Wichita, and in Dodge City where there is an established tourist draw.

It's estimated, Cox said, that slots in these locations could generate an annual $100 million for the state.

"In this proposal, since we need money now, the three tracks have agreed to put up a total of $30 million in advance revenues if the bill would pass," Cox said.

Cox said he thought there might be enough votes for the bill to pass in the House.

"If this does come up I will vote for it to see what happens," Cox said.

On the other hand, the tribal resort hotel and casino may have more appeal for conservative legislators, Cox said.

"Because it would be the only gaming casino in Kansas," Cox said, explaining that gambling only would be allowed in one small part of the state.

And, he said, that could help keep gaming revenue from crossing over into Missouri.

"With one casino on the border it would keep the Kansas money in Kansas that's going out right now," Cox said.

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