Officials advance permit request to reopen Kansas racetrack

Officials are recommending approval with multiple conditions for a request to allow a Kansas City, Kan., business to reopen as a racetrack, electronic gambling venue and entertainment facility.

The city’s planning commission heard extensive public testimony Monday night on a special use permit application request for The Woodlands racetrack. The commission voted to send the request on for further consideration by the Unified Government Commission.

The plan by Ruffin Woodlands LLC calls for a horse racing, electronic gambling and entertainment facility on 317 acres of a 400-acre site. Billionaire Phil Ruffin, who heads the company and owns other racetracks or casinos in Kansas and Nevada, wants to invest $70 million in a “racino” at The Woodlands.

Ruffin also owns Wichita Greyhound Park, which has been closed since 2007 after a vote to put slots at the track failed. In January, a Ruffin spokeswoman said he would be willing to invest $50 million to $100 million to reopen the park with dog racing and slot machines.

The Wyandotte County racetrack has been closed since 2008. Ruffin purchased it from former owner Howard Grace for an undisclosed price in 2015.

Ruffin Woodlands also seeks a change in the Kansas gambling statues to reduce the percentage of electronic gambling revenue owed by racetrack casinos to the same percentage owed by currently licensed casinos.

Protect the Partnership, a group that supports the nearby Hollywood Casino, argues that Ruffin should be held to the same lengthy and detailed public planning process that the gambling facility attached to the Kansas Speedway had before the state approved its gambling license. The group also argues that Ruffin’s proposal could threaten existing operating contracts with Hollywood Casino and hurt tax revenue in Wyandotte County.

An attorney representing Ruffin Woodlands claims his client’s plans would raise the amount of property taxes generated by the site from $200,000 to about $1.8 million annually.

Several neighbors said they wanted to see The Woodlands reopened so it could create more tax revenue to be directed to the county’s public schools.