TOPEKA — Should Sedgwick County voters get a chance to file a petition to force another vote on whether to allow slot machines at the shuttered Wichita Greyhound Park?
That’s at the heart of a bill that has popped up only to be voted down or ignored in recent years in the Statehouse.
This year’s version says that if 5,000 Sedgwick County voters sign a petition, they can force another vote on whether to allow 400 to 1,200 slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park on I-135 in Park City.
George Wingert, a lobbyist for Greyhound Park CEO, Phil Ruffin, told a House panel on Friday that slots would lead to the re-opening of the track, 500 to 1,000 new jobs statewide and $50 million to $75 million of investment.
“In some people’s minds, that’s a fairly good project,” he said.
Sedgwick County voters shot down the idea by a margin of 244 votes in 2007 , leading the Wichita track to close.
“This has proven to be a devastating consequence not only for the breed groups but for various vendors that serviced these industries,” Steve Ward, president of the Kansas Greyhound Association, wrote in his testimony to lawmakers.
Ward said the closure of two tracks in Kansas resulted in the loss of 3,000 jobs, as well as about 1,500 others related to the industry.
Supporters of the slots said many voters didn’t fully understand the ballot question.
But opponents say that’s just spin.
“To argue now that the average voter was confused is smokescreen and it’s an insult to Sedgwick County voters,” said Dave Heinemann, a lobbyist for Stand Up for Kansas, a group that opposes expanded gambling in the state.
The push for slots comes as state casinos are reporting record profits, 22 percent of which go to the state, with a smaller portion channeled to city and county governments.
House Bill 2168 would also lower the minimum investment required to open a new casino in southeast Kansas. The bill would lower the investment threshold in southeast Kansas from $225 million to $50 million in an effort to entice developers to put up a small casino.
And it would shuffle the distribution of gaming revenue, in hopes of spurring more gambling-related development.
The idea has stout support from some rural lawmakers and city leaders, but it has drawn significant opposition from the existing casinos that opened under state law requiring big initial investments.
Lawmakers say it’s unclear whether the bill will get a vote when the House Federal and State Affairs Committee meets again next week.