The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 15, 2013

Cherokee County reaches tentative agreement with Penn National Gaming

Settlement gives county $7.25 million in cash, property

By Roger McKinney

COLUMBUS, Kan. — The Cherokee County Commission will receive an award settlement of $4.75 million and 200 acres of property worth around $2.5 million under a tentative agreement with Penn National Gaming.

The Topeka law firm of David Cooper, the county’s attorney on casino matters, will receive 25 percent of the award and the property value, or nearly $2 million . County Counselor Kevin Cure, who worked on the case locally, will receive $725,000, 10 percent of the award and property value. That leaves about $4.7 million for the county.

A Shawnee County judge in November ruled in Cherokee County’s favor in it breach-of-contract lawsuit with the casino company. The award amount was to have been determined in a subsequent trial.

The county sued Penn National for $53 million in 2008, after the company backed out on a deal to build a state-owned casino after being awarded to the state contract to manage the casino in Southeast Kansas. Penn National officials had said competition from the Quapaw Tribe’s Downstream Casino Resort, just to the south of Penn National’s casino’s planned location, led to its decision to withdraw. That is the property that Penn National owns, and has agreed to relinquish to the county.

Judge Franklin Theis in his ruling accepted the county’s argument that Penn National executives abandoned the project because they thought there was more money to be made elsewhere in Kansas. The company has the state contract for Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, in Topeka.

Cherokee County Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand on Monday said there were too many risks to proceeding to trial for the award decision. He said Penn National would have had the opportunity to appeal, which would be time-consuming and costly.

“It could be a long time before we see any compensation” under that scenario, Hilderbrand said.

He said talk about a settlement agreement has come up only in the past few weeks.

“We’re ready to get it behind us and start moving forward,” Hilderbrand said.

 He said there hasn’t been any discussion among commissioners yet for uses for the land, though he said there are many options available. He said he doesn’t know of any interest from any other casino companies.

Commissioners have discussed in the past using the award amount for property-tax relief, but Hilderbrand said there have been no specific discussions about that, either.

Eric Schippers, Penn National’s vice president for public affairs, said in an email he didn’t want to make any statement until the agreement is finalized.

Cherokee County Commissioners have yet to sign the settlement agreement and Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis still must approve the agreement.