Gambling back in play in Kansas Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. | The gambling issue is returning to the Kansas Legislature.

House Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican, said Friday his committee is drafting legislation intended to make a contract to operate a state-owned casino in southeast Kansas more attractive to bidders.

A 2007 law authorizing one casino in each of four zones around the state requires a minimum $225 million investment plus a $25 million privilege fee from the winner of a contract with the Kansas Lottery to build and run a casino in Crawford or Cherokee county.

The measure being written in Neufeld's committee would require just a $50 million minimum investment and a $5.5 million privilege fee for the southeast zone contract — the same amounts required for a casino contract in Dodge City.

Penn National Gaming Inc. won the contract for Cherokee County but walked away from the deal last September, citing competition from a newly opened, $300 million tribal casino and resort just over the state line in Oklahoma.

No other company has applied for the southeast Kansas casino contract, and the Kansas Lottery last week extended the application deadline to April 21.

The House committee's proposal also would raise the amount a race track could keep from slot machines. Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac closed in 2000, and owner Phil Ruffin said it won't reopen unless the track gets a bigger percentage from the slots. The law allows the track to keep up to 40 percent and Ruffin said wasn't enough.

The bill also would allow the same person in southeast Kansas to operate a casino and a racetrack with slots, and would reduce the current 90-day time to review an application.

There's some risk that a gambling bill could create an opportunity for opponents to repeal the gambling law.

Casino companies also withdrew from Sumner and Wyandotte counties after being awarded contracts, citing the economic upheaval. The Lottery has set an April 1 deadline for applications in those counties.