TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback says the legislature shouldn’t try to tackle gambling during the 2012 legislative session because it has too many other heavy issues to deal with.
“We have got a full agenda,” the governor said in an interview with The Eagle. “This is not the time really for us to address gaming issues.”
Brownback’s agenda includes plans to change the state’s tax structure, overhaul the school finance formula and the state pension system, alter Medicaid and construct new water policies. Meanwhile, the legislature must tackle redistricting during an election year.
“It seems like most of the time whenever you get a gaming issue up here, it just takes all the energy and focus,” he said.
The governor’s comments come as the Wichita Wins group seeks to get a bill through the legislature that would let Sedgwick County residents vote again on whether to allow slot machines at the Wichita Greyhound Park. Under the bill, a public vote would require at least 5,000 signatures on a petition in favor of a referendum.
Voters defeated the issue by 244 votes in a 2007 special election. But Greyhound Park supporters say the ballot was unclear and led some people to believe that the measure would have allowed slot machines in convenience stores and other locations.
Wichita Wins, a group of businesspeople, dog and horse racing enthusiasts and former park employees, wants a clearer ballot issue and doesn’t plan to back down based on Brownback’s comments, said group organizer Tracy Wildey, vice president of the Kansas Greyhound Association.
Wildey notes that Brownback didn’t specifically come out against slot machines in Sedgwick County and that any legislator could introduce a bill.
Meanwhile, she said, many controversial issues could emerge and take focus away from Brownback’s agenda, including abortion and redistricting.
“We just have too much support to discontinue it,” she said.
If the Wichita Greyhound Park reopens, the Wichita Wins group says, it would create 500 jobs and draw $100 million in investment by Phil Ruffin to renovate the building, expand it and buy slot machines.
Doug Lawrence, a lobbyist who represents Ruffin, said he knows gambling is a tough issue for lawmakers to deal with and that he’s not surprised by Brownback’s comments.
Lawrence said lawmakers have debated bills similar to the one Wichita Wins hopes to introduce in January. He said one of those decisions in the Senate came down to one vote, and he suggested that this year may be different because now a casino will be operating about the same distance from Wichita as the Greyhound Park.
Lawrence also said the Wyandotte Nation is currently in federal court in Kansas seeking a ruling that would allow it to build a casino across the street from the greyhound park.
“The legislature may or may not take up gaming this year,” he said. “But we still think the issue is relevant for the community and the state.”