Some of the usual suspects are showing new interest in building and managing Sumner County's casino as round three of bidding is about to begin — including the winner of round one, Harrah's Entertainment.
But just as casino action in the county is heating up again, the Obama administration has given a boost to plans by the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma to build a competing casino in Park City.
Those plans helped scuttle round two in Sumner County.
Harrah's is circling the Mulvane turnpike exit again, as is former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight, who was part of a round one effort with MGM Mirage and Foxwoods Development at the same exit. Knight said he and Harrah's have talked about a partnership, but nothing has materialized yet.
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Wellington's exit has drawn another former bidder, Roger Wagner, who headed a round one bid at the exit by Marvel Gaming and the family of casino legend Jack Binion.
It also has attracted a new face, Global Gaming Solutions of Ada, Okla., a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation.
"We anticipate having some very good proposals this time," said Janis Hellard, director of the county's economic development commission. "We're hoping the third time is the charm."
New applications are due to the Kansas Lottery by July 22, and to Sumner County by July 29.
County commissioners will hear presentations on the proposals at a public meeting Aug. 10 at the Raymond Frye Complex in Wellington.
Endorsements from local governments are required before applicants may sign contracts with the lottery. Ultimately, a seven-member casino review board will select a winner.
The state will own the casino, which must be built with a minimum investment of $225 million.
Wyandotte tribe casino
The new round of applications came about after the only survivor of round two, Chisholm Creek Casino Resort, yanked its plans for a casino at the Mulvane exit just before the review board was to vote on it in April.
The partners had grown skittish about potential competition from a Wyandotte casino in Park City, as well as legislation then pending in the Kansas Legislature that might have given Wichita Greyhound Park another chance to have slot machines, and confusion about zoning issues at its site near Mulvane.
This week, the Wyandotte tribe learned its plan finally may have gained some momentum. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sent a memo to the Bureau of Indian Affairs urging it to proceed with pending applications from Indian tribes to have lands taken into trust for gaming purposes.
The applications have been stalled at the bureau as the Obama administration developed a policy on off-reservation gaming.
"It's the best news we've had in the last four years," said Billy Friend, second chief of the Wyandotte tribe.
The Wyandotte tribe is among 33 tribes with land-in-trust applications pending. Friend said the tribe's application should be among the first considered because the tribe has cleared all legal hurdles, while other states could block Indian gaming efforts through the courts.
The tribe bought its 10.5 acres in Park City in 1992 with congressional land-claim settlement funds, and the Interior Department is mandated by Congress to take such land into trust, Friend said.
The tribe's 14-year legal battle with the state over a site in Kansas City, Kan., recently ended when the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed an appeal by the state. The tribe used the same land-claim settlement money to buy that land.
Friend said he expects to hear from the Bureau of Indian Affairs about the tribe's application for Park City within a week or two.
Potential bidders for Wellington
At least one potential Sumner Casino bidder, Wagner, plans to abandon his project if the tribe is allowed to proceed with its casino.
"That's going to make it very difficult to get financing for a casino in Sumner County that has a minimum construction threshold of $225 million," Wagner said.
Still, he said, he and his partner, Jon Wolfe, another former Marvel Gaming officer, have prepared a preliminary draft of a response to the county's casino request for proposal and probably will file an application sometime after July 15.
Wagner and Wolfe, both former Horseshoe Gaming executives, have a company called House Advantage and are working with a private equity firm in New York to finance the proposal.
Global Gaming Solutions, which also is looking into Wellington, still is assessing whether to make a bid.
"We are appreciative of the favorable reception we have received during our due diligence enquiries thus far, but it is premature to confirm at this point whether we will participate in the bidding process," John Elliott, the company's chief executive, wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle.
Global Gaming Solutions bought Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma City in December. It also has a sales agreement to purchase Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, pending license approval by the Texas Racing Commission.
The Chickasaw own 13 casinos in Oklahoma, including the upscale WinStar World Casino near the Texas state line.
Wagner said he'd favor Global Gaming's effort if he pulls out. The company is "doing their homework like they should," and the casino belongs in Wellington, he said.
"I really think Wellington is the correct spot for it from an economic development standpoint and for the county," Wagner said. "John Elliott agrees."
Harrah's is exploring options at the Mulvane exit and examining the application process, said Harrah's spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson.
"We look forward to the opportunity of re-connecting with the local community," she said.
A $560 million proposal for Mulvane's exit by Harrah's and its former partner, Topeka-based Sumner Gaming, won state approval in round one over two Wellington bids, including Wagner's and one by Penn National Gaming. But Harrah's eventually withdrew, citing the economic downturn.
Peterson said Harrah's recently completed a transaction with its sponsoring companies, Apollo Management and TPG Capital, as well as Paulson & Co., that will leave Harrah's with about $3 billion in available liquidity.
Peterson also said Harrah's is interested in a return because it always liked Kansas and felt it had strong support.
She wouldn't give details about any partners, the scope of a new casino project or even whether the company would submit a bid. All those concerns are being evaluated, she said.
Knight wouldn't say much about his plans, either, and he wouldn't identify his partners, other than to say he and Harrah's have discussed a relationship.
"We've got to meet their expectations and they've got to meet ours, and it has to be done in short order," he said.