MULVANE — Horse enthusiasts in Kansas say an equestrian center that is part of Peninsula Gaming's proposal for a destination casino near Mulvane would fill a huge void that forced a premier horse show to be held last year in Oklahoma.
Kansas regulators picked the Dubuque, Iowa-based Peninsula in December to build a state-owned casino near Mulvane, just off the Kansas Turnpike. The $260 million project includes a hotel, RV park and 10,000-square-foot equestrian center.
Questions remain about misdemeanor campaign finance charges in Iowa against two top Peninsula executives accused of making illegal contributions in the name of others to former Gov. Chet Culver's unsuccessful re-election campaign last year.
Those executives, CEO Brent Stevens and chief operating officer Jonathan Swain, have said they committed no wrongdoing and will be vindicated when their case goes to trial in June. Their assurances were enough to persuade the Kansas Lottery's Gaming Facility Review Board to sign off on background checks earlier this month and give the company permission to start building.
Peninsula plans to break ground in April and have a temporary casino open in February 2012.
But it's the thought of an equine center big enough to host large events — not the bells and whistles of a gambling facility — that have Kansas horse owners excited.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported this month that Diana Friend, president of the Kansas Quarter Horse Association, thinks the equine center would make the state a destination for horse shows that are too large for any of the existing buildings in the state.
Friend, of Ozawkie, said the center, along with the hotel and RV park, would create direct spending estimated between $17.5 million and $20.5 million a year. The lack of adequate facilities already has cost the state with large events being forced to go elsewhere, she said.
"That means we're exporting millions of dollars as Kansas horse trainers, amateur and youth exhibitors, family members and spectators travel out of state to take part in these key horse shows," Friend said.
Last year, the KQHA took its Prairie Classic, a new, premier event, to the Oklahoma state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City because no Kansas facility had enough stalls for the event.
There are 200 stalls at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, said Sherri Tearney, a national director for the American Quarter Horse Association, which isn't enough. And while there are more stalls at the Kansas Coliseum north of Wichita, she said it isn't a self-contained facility with lodging, food and other amenities.
More than 700 horses participated in the inaugural Prairie Classic, and Tearney said the standard estimate is that each horse is accompanied by at least two people.
That means there were more than 1,400 people at the five-day event in
Oklahoma, spending money on hotels, food, other necessities and entertainment.
Tearney said there are enough breeds of horses and disciplines in which they can participate that an equine center such as the one proposed by Peninsula could be busy every weekend, if operated properly.
Jo Turner, a former Kansas Horse Council member from Topeka, said the large equestrian center at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is an example of what such a facility could mean in Kansas.
"I've been to South Point in Las Vegas, and it is a wonderful facility that draws a lot of events and people," she said.