December 9, 2011

Kansas Star Casino preparing for test run

MULVANE – As nondescript as a warehouse on the outside, the new Kansas Star Casino offers Las Vegas atmosphere on the inside two weeks before its scheduled opening.

MULVANE – As nondescript as a warehouse on the outside, the new Kansas Star Casino offers Las Vegas atmosphere on the inside two weeks before its scheduled opening.

Row after row of Vegas-style slot machines and gaming tables fill the 60,000-square-foot facility at the Mulvane turnpike exit.

The space will be converted to an events center in a year when the Kansas Star opens its permanent casino on the north side.

More than 1,300 slots, lit up and ablaze with color for a media tour hosted by the casino on Friday, looked eager to begin taking money when the interim Kansas Star opens to the public at 8 a.m. on Dec. 26, just in time for the busiest gambling week of the year, according to Scott Cooper, general manager.

The floor of the building is carpeted, chandeliers in muted colors hang from the ceiling, large wood-framed photos of Kansas landscapes made by Kansas artists line the walls, and three restaurants await diners.

The only signs that the interim casino is interim are upper-level seats that have been installed for future entertainment and equestrian events, and large equestrian gates that are suspended from the ceiling.

“This is as nice as a permanent casino,” said Mike Dickson, director of casino operations, who has worked in casinos in Las Vegas and the Midwest for 30 years. “If they did all this for a temporary casino, I can’t wait to see what the new casino is going to look like.”

New blackjack dealers and other employees were training on the casino floor during the media tour to prepare for a test run in front of state regulators next week. The Kansas Star must prove it is worthy of a permanent license from the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission before it opens. The commission will meet in Mulvane on Monday to consider approving a conditional license to hold the demonstration, set for Dec. 16, and to consider the Kansas Star’s surveillance and security plans.

A demonstration is an invitation-only event that involves gambling with real money. Any revenue earned by the casino during the demonstration will go to charities, including the Kansas Food Bank warehouse, Wichita Dress for Success, Music Theatre of Wichita, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and the veterans memorial in Wichita.

The gaming tables are lined with beige leather and feature Kansas Star logos at each position. The casino will offer blackjack, roulette, craps , and a variety of poker games, including Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em. A poker room will be built in next phase.

When they walk in the front door, customers will find some of the same games they’ve played in Las Vegas, Dickson said.

“That’s what I hope will happen, that feeling that ‘Wow, I’m in Kansas, and I can go to any game just like I can in Las Vegas,’” he said.

The casino currently has 500 employees, 48 percent from Sedgwick County and 35 percent from nearby communities in Sumner County, Cooper said. Construction of the casino provided 1,600 jobs, according to the Kansas Lottery.

Iowa-based Peninsula Gaming, which is building and managing the casino for the state, received more than 10,000 online job applications and interviewed more than 5,000 people to get the 500 people it now employs, Cooper said. The casino will employ 800 when it is fully built.

Its Lucky Star Player’s Club, a promotional device that awards points for use at casino amenities, already has signed up 26,000 members from 39 states, according to Doug Fisher, the casino’s marketing director.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I think it’s a really good number.”

Food amenities available when the Kansas Star opens after Christmas will include the Arena Grill, with hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and homemade pizzas; Panini Joe’s, with Panini sandwiches, pastries and salads; and Haute Dogs, offering hot dogs with a variety of toppings, said Stefan Huba, vice president of food and beverage.

The Arena Grill will be replaced by a buffet when the permanent casino opens next year. It will have cooking demonstrations and feature a large pasty area, Huba said A deli featuring burgers and Panini sandwiches, and a wood-fire steakhouse will open in the future. The steakhouse will use only Kansas beef, Huba said.

Panini Joe’s will be open around the clock. The Arena Grill and Haute Dog will be open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

The Kansas Star’s permanent casino, expected to be 70 percent larger than the interim facility, will include 2,000 slots, 50 tables and a 150-room hotel. The final phase, to be completed in early 2014, will expand the hotel to 300 rooms, add rental venues and RV parking, and include the opening of the 24-acre, 100,000 square-foot equestrian center with 600 stalls.

The casino projects 2 million visitors in its first year, and just under 3 million annually once the $314 million project is complete, Cooper said..

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