Add the ringing of slot machines to the cacophony of New Year’s celebrations in south-central Kansas.
The Kansas Star Casino, which opened here the day after Christmas, is expected to be packed on New Year’s Eve and Day even though there’s nothing particularly special planned to mark the occasion.
Chalk it up to curiosity and the pent-up demand for gambling in this area.
If you haven’t squeezed in a visit yet (What? It’s been open nearly a week!), you’ll find a little more and a little less than you might expect.
Obviously, it’s not one of the glitzy casinos on the Las Vegas strip. For one thing, the 60,000-square-foot building is only a "temporary" casino, housed in what will become the Star’s events center when the permanent casino is finished. But it’s new and clean, which automatically makes it nicer than some casinos in the surrounding region.
And oh yeah, it’s jammed with 1,311 slot machines and 32 table games, three casual restaurants serving a lot of reasonably priced food and ATMs to help patrons deal with any temporary cash shortages.
If you’re going, make sure you have a coat or sweater and a little extra gasoline in your tank. On opening day, cars were backed up nearly to the new toll booths on the west side of Mulvane’s Turnpike exit, and a line of people stretched 100 yards waiting to get inside the casino at times.
Casino officials say the longest wait to get in was about 30 minutes. The temperature is expected to drop into the 30s overnight Saturday.
There is valet parking available (free, but a tip is customary) but no shuttle from the 1,600-slot parking lot.
If you plan to visit the casino more than once, you’ll probably want to join the Lucky Star Player’s Club, which you can do at a counter next to the entrance. You can also join online at kansasstarcasino.com and pick up your card at the counter. The club, which is free to join, rewards players with points based on how much they wager. For now, those points can be redeemed for food and drink at the casino. Eventually, when the casino complex is finished, they will be able to be used for hotel rooms, tickets to shows and more.
Expect to run into a few out-of-towners. Through Wednesday, about 30,000 people from 39 different states had applied for or obtained players cards.
There is one sit-down restaurant, the Arena Grill, with 225 seats and a small cocktail lounge attached. The grill features burgers and chicken sandwiches, thin-crust pizza, salads, and "gourmet" pretzels. Artwork by several Kansans hangs in the restaurant.
There are also two smaller walk-up restaurants, Haute Dogs and Panini Joe’s, which have a few stand-up tables each. Haute Dogs boasts "butcher-block quality hot dogs produced the old world way" while Panini Joe’s serves up sandwiches, lattes and more.
The most expensive item on any of the menus is $6.75. In addition to being "very value-oriented," food operations director Stefan Huber said, "We wanted it to be really good, really consistent and really fast."
On the casino floor, patrons can expect to see a lot of "friendly cocktail waitresses with big smiles," Huber said.
Smoking is allowed throughout the casino, offset — casino officials say — by an air filtration system designed to exchange the air in the casino eight times per hour.
For now, there’s no room for live entertainment. As for the main attraction, gambling, slots range from a penny up to a dollar to play. Casino officials have the ability to change out slot machines based on which prove most popular. There hadn’t been any mammoth payouts through midweek, but several people had won thousands on one pull.
There is room for about another 225 players on the table games, which include blackjack, roulette, craps, three-card poker and more. Table games start at $5 and go up to whatever limit players and the casino officials feel comfortable with.
"We’re willing to gamble," general manager Scott Cooper said.