TOPEKA — Wichita Greyhound Park would have another shot at slot machines under a bill considered by a Senate panel Wednesday.
Supporters of Senate Bill 401, which also would let racetrack owners keep a larger portion of slots revenue, touted it as a way to help create jobs in Kansas.
Opponents will have a chance to weigh in on the measure in about two weeks, said Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
The new slots question would appear on the ballot only after a petition with signatures from 5,000 Sedgwick County voters was submitted.
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"We believe it will give folks the chance to make a clear and convincing decision," said Doug Lawrence, executive director of the Kansas Greyhound Association.
Voters rejected slots at the Wichita track by 244 votes out of more than 103,000 cast. At the same time, they rejected a casino in Sedgwick County by more than 12,000 votes.
The greyhound track later closed.
It was clear in 2007 that voters did not want a destination casino, nor slot machines in restaurants, bars and gas stations, Lawrence said. But there was confusion in the vote over slots at the racetrack.
The new proposal, he said, would lay out the question very clearly: "Shall the operation of electronic gaming machines at the Wichita Greyhound Park by the Kansas lottery be permitted in Sedgwick County?"
Others testified in favor of allowing racetrack owners to keep 58 percent of the net revenue from slots instead of the current 40 percent. The state lottery has struggled to secure contracts with owners of The Woodlands in Kansas City and Camptown Greyhounds Park near Pittsburg. Those tracks have closed.
George Wingert, lobbyist for Ruffin Cos., which owns both the Wichita and Camptown greyhound parks, told the committee the company had money set aside to remodel and develop both sites if the bill passed. He assured lawmakers that both tracks would reopen.
Kurt Eck, whose family has raised racing horses west of Wichita for 35 years, said the bill "should be viewed as a job creation bill meant to stimulate our economy."
"I would love to make more investments into the horse industry in Kansas, but it is really hard to make that decision right now with the lack of opportunities in the state," said Eck, who serves on the Kansas Quarter Horse Racing Association's board of directors.
While slots at a casino generate money, slots at a racetrack would bolster the state's racing industry. That means more money going to farmers raising hay and alfalfa, and more jobs related to raising and training the animals.
"Racing involves all segments of agriculture and rural Kansas," said Jeff Rutland, who raises quarter horses in Independence.
Expanding gaming would bring back the incentives to raise racehorses in the state, he said.
"Our laws no longer shelter us from gambling. They only separate us from the revenues it generates," Rutland said.
The bill also would lower the mandatory investment required for a casino in the Southeast Gaming Zone in Cherokee or Crawford counties from $225 million to $100 million. The fee to the state would be reduced from $25 million to $11 million. The zone has struggled to find a developer.
Representatives from Cherokee County said a casino would bring much needed tourism dollars and economic development to their region.
A similar bill has been introduced in the House.