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Phil Ruffin to try again for slots at Wichita Greyhound Park

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at 11:57 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at 6:51 p.m.

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Wichita Greyhound Park operator Phil Ruffin plans to try again to get legislation passed in Topeka that would allow him to add slot machines at the park so he can reopen it.

Ruffin would invest between $50 million and $100 million to renovate the facility on I-135 in Park City if he could install the slot machines, said his lobbyist, George Wingert, on Friday. He also would add a Gilley’s Saloon.

Wingert said reopening the park would create 500 jobs and generate about $1.8 million in annual gaming revenue for Sedgwick County, along with additional property tax revenue.

Before any of that could happen, the Legislature would have to approve a new vote for Sedgwick County residents on whether they want slot machines at the park, the Sedgwick County Commission would have to agree to put the question on the ballot and voters would have to pass the measure.

Ruffin closed the park in 2007 after voters rejected a ballot measure to allow slot machines at the track by a margin of 244 votes. Since then, he has lobbied the Legislature without success to allow another election, arguing that voters were misled by the ballot language in the first one.

‘A lot more interest’

Wingert said there is more optimism about getting a bill passed this time because of the success of the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, just across the southern Sedgwick County line in Sumner County.

“There’s a lot more interest in what it would mean locally,” he said.

Wingert cited figures from the Sumner County treasurer showing that the casino generated $7.9 million in property taxes in 2013 for the state, county, city of Mulvane and schools. He said Ruffin’s investment in the greyhound park would add $770,000 in property taxes for the Valley Center School District, $367,500 for Sedgwick County and $228,750 for the Sedgwick County Fire District.

Reopening the track also would draw tourists to Wichita, he said.

“Wichita, with all the other happenings, is starting to become a mega-draw for south-central Kansas and Oklahoma. This would add to it,” he said.

Wingert said he has had preliminary discussions with county commissioners about putting the issue on a new ballot.

“There appears to be some interest,” he said.

Opponents of allowing slots at the track have said that the complaint about the 2007 ballot language is a smokescreen and an insult to voters in the county.

Bill’s chances

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, who chairs the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, where gambling issues often start out, said he doesn’t see such a bill succeeding this year.

“That’s been an on-going deal and I don’t see that going anywhere. I don’t think there’s enough votes in the Legislature,” he said. “I’m not getting any pressure to work it.”

Last year, an effort was made in the Senate to stop the slots-at-racetracks movement for nearly two decades, but senators ultimately rejected that effort. They voted down a proposal that would have banned slots at tracks until 2032.

The organization “Wichita Wins,” which was formed to advocate for slots at the Wichita track in the past, will be active in the new effort, said Beth King, Wichita Wins spokeswoman.

“This really is a question of respecting the right of Sedgwick County to vote on this issue,” King said in a prepared statement. “Like it or not, gaming is legal in Kansas, and we now see a great deal of its revenue in Sumner County, not here at home in Sedgwick.”'

Wichita Wins has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WichitaWins.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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