The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 26, 2014

Senate advances measure aimed at lowering ante for Southeast Kansas casino

The Kansas Senate this week passed a bill aimed at luring a state-owned casino to Southeast Kansas nearly a decade after it was authorized.

The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, would lower the investment required for a casino in the Southeast Gaming Zone from $225 million to $50 million.

“That will allow an investor to bid at a lower rate and allow us to stop bleeding money into Oklahoma and capture some revenue in Kansas,” LaTurner said in an email to the Globe. “This has been attempted numerous times over the past seven years and has failed until (Tuesday).”

LaTurner said it is the first gambling bill to pass out of either house of the Legislature since 2007. His bill now goes to the Kansas House.

Under the plan, the state also would drop the fee it charges for a prospective developer to $5.5 million from $25 million.

A casino in Southeast Kansas was authorized by law in 2005, but area officials say the required investment and the fee are too high to attract interest from developers.

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 filed the lawsuit in response to the company’s decision to back out on a deal to build a state-owned casino after being awarded the contract to manage the Southeast Kansas region’s casino.

Penn National officials cited competition from the Quapaw Tribe’s Downstream Casino Resort, just across the state line in Oklahoma, in their decision to withdraw.

The county eventually received a $6.75 million settlement in the lawsuit.

Cherokee County Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand said lowering the threshold to a smaller amount would probably bring casino development to the area, but it wouldn’t be comparable with Downstream Casino.

“It wouldn’t be comparing apples to apples,” he said.

State Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, introduced a similar bill in 2009, but it was blocked by former House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who had said he would not allow his agenda to be sidetracked by a gambling debate.

Menghini said LaTurner’s proposal lacks some of the components she would like to see in the bill.

“If we don’t have an opportunity to make an amendment, it will have to do for now,” Menghini said, adding that she wants to lower the percentage allotted to the state so greyhound racing circuits could be revived in Kansas.

“And when you revive that, you revive dog breeders and a number of other industries that basically work around that,” she said.

A number of representatives from western Kansas want to see the tracks revived, Menghini said, but the bill is missing anything that draws them to the table.

Menghini said that even if amending the bill is not an option, she will support it.

“If this is the last train out, I’m going to be on board,” she said.

Hilderbrand said a casino would bring jobs, tourism and other related businesses to the area.

“I think if they can get a bill passed through the House and the Senate, there would be some positives to it,” he said, but he added that there are other things that can be done to help the county develop and boost its economy.

“I think it’s very important that we don’t put all our hopes and efforts on a casino,” he said.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

Gambling rights

THE KANSAS LOTTERY owns the rights to the gambling but would have a private developer build and operate the casino, which could be built in Cherokee or Crawford counties.

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