A bill aimed at luring a state-owned casino to Southeast Kansas cleared the state Legislature on Wednesday in Topeka and is awaiting a decision by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The Kansas House by a vote of 84-36 approved the bill, which lowers the investment required from a prospective developer for a Southeast Kansas casino from $225 million to $50 million. The measure also decreases an extra fee charged by the state to a developer to $5.5 million from $25 million.
The Senate approved the bill last week. Brownback has not said whether he’ll sign it.
The bill’s passage capped five years of work by Southeast Kansas legislators.
The proposal is sponsored by state Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who said he’s confident the governor will sign it.
“I think the governor realizes this is important to Southeast Kansas,” LaTurner said. “It’s really very exciting we’re able to do this after it’s been attempted for so many years.”
A 2007 law authorized one state-owned casino each in Southeast Kansas and in the Wichita, Dodge City and Kansas City areas. The Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the gambling but hires private developers to build and operate each casino, with the state claiming a share of the revenues. The Southeast Kansas zone was identified as Cherokee and Crawford counties.
Penn National Gaming Inc. initially showed interest in a Southeast Kansas casino but backed out of the deal, citing competition from the Quapaw Tribe’s Downstream Casino Resort, located just across the state line in Oklahoma.
In September 2012, a Shawnee County judge ruled in Cherokee County’s favor in its breach-of-contract lawsuit against Penn National Gaming. The county eventually received a $6.75 million settlement.
During Wednesday’s brief House debate on the bill, one Southeast Kansas lawmaker, Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, voiced skepticism that developers would be interested in competing against multiple tribal casinos in Oklahoma, even with the lower investment requirement. He also said a new casino would hurt local businesses and increase the number of people with gambling addictions.
“If we want to increase social costs in Southeast Kansas, you should vote for this,” Peck said.
Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, said the problem of gambling addiction is already in Southeast Kansas. He said that if a casino was built, money would be set aside to fund counseling.
Houser said a casino would have a positive impact on both Cherokee and Crawford counties, regardless of where the casino was located, because both would profit from the revenue generated.
“It’d be a heck of a deal for creating jobs,” Houser said, adding that a casino would attract spending from other states and bolster tourism. “It’s just a winner.”
Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby said the city “absolutely supports the bill” because of the economic development potential.
“We believe it’d be a benefit to all three states,” he said, adding that a casino would attract retail stores and hotels, and create jobs.
“It’s all about jobs and bringing the personal income to support the people in the Tri-State District,” Oglesby said. “We could use it as a catalyst to get the whole thing moving.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
SINCE 2007, state-owned casinos have opened south of Wichita, in Dodge City and in Kansas City, heightening the frustration of Southeast Kansas officials who for years were among the most vocal supporters of expanded legalized gambling.