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KCK casino boosters have their say

The public today had its say on who should operate a state-owned casino in Wyandotte County.

Wrapping up a three-day hearing on the campus of the Kansas City Kansas Community College, the Kansas Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board heard testimony from around four dozen people who signed up to deliver maximum two-minute spiels at a public microphone.

While there was no consensus on who should win the Review Board’s nod for a state contract, the sentiment for gambling and the new tax dollars it will generate was overwhelming.

Perhaps no one drew more applause than longtime Kansas City, Kan., resident Robert J. Soptic.

“It’s been 25 years we’ve been trying to get a casino,” he said. “I’m getting tired.

“Are we ever going to get to the end of meetings and find out what’s going to happen?”

Soptic got no answer Friday. But the panel meets again in Topeka Sept. 18-19 when it is expected to tap one of the four remaining local applicants as the winner of a nearly year long competition that has seen several other applicants drop out.

The Review Board is simultaneously considering applicants in the Wichita, Dodge City and southeast Kansas gambling zones set out in the state’s casino law was signed by the governor last year.

The first casinos in Wyandotte County are expected to open in late 2010 and some applicants have considering temporary casinos they would operate in the interim.

Wednesday and Thursday the review board heard presentations from and quizzed the four survivors: Golden Gaming that proposes a $661 million casino complex in Edwardsville; the Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribe and Kansas City-based Red Development that propose a $767 Legends Sun casino on the west edge of Red’s Legends shopping district in western Wyandotte County; Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., that proposes a $623 million resort casino and convention center adjacent to Schlitterbahn Vacation Village at State Avenue and Interstate 435; and the $705 million Hard Rock Casino & Hotel at Kansas Speedway co-owned by the Speedway and the Cordish Co., builders of Kansas City’s Power & Light District.

In remarks Friday, a cross section of public officials and ordinary citizens promoted their favorites.

Lee’s Summit Mayor Karen Messerli came to praise local developer Red as “a leader in our community.”

Former Edwardsville Mayor Woody Berry said his “sleepy” town needs the economic jump start Golden’s casino would bring.

Gary Carpenter said he likes Golden’s plan because it offers gamblers handy highway access just south of I-70 at 110th Street, rather than traffic hassles on local roadway loops that serve the Speedway and Legends area just to the north.

Marcellus Hughes praised the Speedway group’s track record in providing opportunities to small, minority owned businesses in the area.

Piper USD 203 school superintendent Steve Adams said the district is the state’s fastest growing and noted only the Legends project lies within its boundaries. “Our school board strongly endorses Red,” he said.

Paul Soptic wants casino property taxes to go to the county’s largest school district, USD 500 in Kansas City, Kan., and said Pinnacle’s project is the only applicant within its boundaries. “What is more important than education?” he asked.

Others had other axes to grind.

Chris Worthington doesn’t want to see a casino next door to Schlitterbahn. “People that take their children to a water park should not be subjected to a casino,” he said.

Banker Chris Gaffney cautioned board members that “all equity is not created equal,” and urged careful examination of applicants’ private financing deals and debt load proposed to pay for their projects.

For more information about the applicants and the state’s selection process, go to www.ksracing.org and click on “Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board.”

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