The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — The fate of a proposed casino south of Wichita rested Tuesday with Gov. Mark Parkinson after developers and consultants showed skittishness about the project.
Officials with Chisholm Creek said they worry the Legislature will rewrite the state’s gambling laws this year and undercut the profitability of the proposed $225 million casino near Mulvane, about 20 miles south of Wichita.
Meanwhile, consultants for the state expressed reservations about Chisholm Creek’s proposed contract to build and manage the casino for the Kansas Lottery. One issue is how the developer would deal with competition from a potential Indian casino in the area.
The state’s Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board had planned to decide Tuesday whether Chisholm Creek could move forward. But Chisholm Creek requested a 60-day delay and told the board it would abandon its venture if a decision wasn’t postponed — even if the board approved the project.
Board members were frustrated but voted for the reprieve, despite an April 19 deadline set by Kansas law for a decision.
As governor, Parkinson can extend the deadline, and the board planned to ask him to do it. Board members weren’t confident Parkinson would agree, but Chisholm Creek attorney John Frieden said the law doesn’t appear to give the governor much discretion.
Parkinson’s office did not immediately respond to questions about his position. The review board began making plans for another meeting before April 19, just in case.
Board member Jim Bergfalk, of Mission, said the board had no choice but to delay its decision.
“I resent it,” he said. “I resent the way it came about.”
The board’s decision on Chisholm Creek already had been delayed once.
In December, the partnership was allowed to renegotiate its contract with the lottery to deal with a casino proposed by the Wyandotte Nation. The northeast Oklahoma tribe is seeking the federal government’s permission to build its casino on 10 acres of land in Park City, north of Wichita.
Consultants criticized Chisholm Creek’s renegotiated contract because it calls for less meeting space and fewer amenities and slot machines if the Wyandotte casino is built than if Chisholm Creek has a monopoly in the Wichita area.
Consultant William Eadington, said he’d expect the opposite — a guarantee of more amenities in the face of competition to keep drawing customers south.
“I look at this and say, are they committed here?” said Eadington, director of an institute on commercial gambling at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Tim Cope, president of Lakes Entertainment Inc., said Chisholm Creek doesn’t want to promise more than it can deliver in a sour economy. Lakes, based in Minnetonka, Minn., is one of the partners in Chisholm Creek and would run the casino.
Responding to Eadington, he said: “If I was an economist, without putting a dollar of my own money into it, I’d probably say the same thing. The fact is, we’re the ones in the trenches.”
Chisholm Creek also is watching a gambling bill before the Kansas Senate. It worries legislators will allow Sedgwick County to vote a second time on authorizing slots at the now-closed Wichita Greyhound Park, which voters narrowly rejected in 2007.
Legislators are taking their annual spring break but reconvene April 28. Chisholm Creek has already warned them it will drop its project if slots are allowed at the dog track.
Board Chairman Matt All, of Lawrence, noted Chisholm Creek could face such a threat from the Legislature each year.
But Frieden said in the future, “We’ll have a casino built and we have a head start.”
The Associated Press
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