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Senate rejects bill that could have doomed Wichita Greyhound Park

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 7:57 p.m.

— The state Senate on Tuesday rejected a bill that would have virtually assured that Wichita Greyhound Park would never reopen.

The bill, which would have slammed the door on slot machines at Kansas racetracks for the next 19 years, was rejected on a 24-15 vote after three hours of debate. The bill had passed the House earlier 84-38.

The core of the bill was a provision to prevent the state lottery from allowing gambling machines at tracks until June 2032 at the earliest.

The bill would have headed off ongoing efforts to bring in slots and reopen the mothballed Wichita Greyhound Park, which has sat idle since 2007.

The track shut down after Sedgwick County voters rejected separate ballot measures to allow slot machines at the track and the development of a major destination casino in Sedgwick County.

The casino was eventually built in Sumner County, just south of the Sedgwick County line at the Mulvane exit on the Kansas Turnpike.

Ever since the 2007 vote, former Greyhound Park operator Phil Ruffin has lobbied the Legislature to allow another election, arguing that confusion over the ballot language in the first one misled people into voting against slots at the track.

Voters soundly rejected the destination casino but the track slots lost by only 244 votes. Ruffin announced the closure of the track that night, saying it was impossible to make money with racing as the only draw.

Conservative Sedgwick County lawmakers who opposed the gambling referendums said they wanted the legislative action to protect the wishes of the electorate.

“In my community we had a vote … and asked the community whether they wanted to authorize a casino facility in the Wichita area and the racetrack slots and both were defeated,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. “People have sought to overturn that for years.”

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, however, said that 67 percent of her constituents backed slots at the track.

“Three-hundred people immediately lost their jobs at Greyhound Park in Wichita” after the vote, she said.

The vote on the overall bill – Senate Substitute for House Bill 2055 – also killed off an amendment to make Internet gambling a misdemeanor crime. That amendment, by Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, would have banned using the Internet or any mobile wireless device for gambling, or offering online gambling to any resident in Kansas.

Although senators approved the amendment 26-11, it died with the rest of the bill.

Reach Dion Lefler at 785-296-3006 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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