High stakes for Kansas Star Casino in court case at a Wichita magnet school

The Kansas Star Casino and Sumner County are preparing to do battle over the casino’s tax appeals.
The Kansas Star Casino and Sumner County are preparing to do battle over the casino’s tax appeals.

Sumner County says the Kansas Star Casino is worth $153 million. The casino owners say it’s more like $75 million.

That’s one of the high-stakes questions to be argued before a panel of appeals judges who will hold court this week at a Wichita magnet school.

The outcome of the case could mean millions of dollars plus or minus for the local governments in Sumner County and the casino’s owner, Boyd Gaming.

The judges will hear oral arguments at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Wichita Northeast Magnet High School. The public is invited and the judges will stick around to answer questions about the court system after the hearing.

Boyd Gaming is a casino giant with a dozen properties in Las Vegas and 11 more in Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. It owns and operates the Kansas Star property and buildings, although technically the gambling part of the operation is owned by the Kansas Lottery.

The property encompasses more than 195 acres that includes the 165,000 square-foot casino and a 6,200 seat arena used for concerts and horse events.

Kansas Star has appealed its tax appraisals for 2013 and 2014.

Those values have risen and fallen dramatically as the cases have zigzagged through the system.

In the 2013 case, a district judge set the tax value of the casino and surrounding property at $152 million – more than the county’s appraisal of $140 million and more than double Kansas Star’s appraisal of $62 million.

In 2014, the county appraised the casino property at $153 million, while the company’s appraisal was $75 million. The Kansas Board of Tax Appeals set the value at $97.6 million.

Kansas Star has appealed both years’ appraisals as too high and Sumner County has cross-appealed the 2014 decision, saying it’s too low.

County officials weren’t able to give a firm estimate of how much tax money is on the line in the case, but it’s likely to be millions of dollars.

Sumner County appraiser records show the Kansas Star has been billed for $8.5 million in property taxes for the 2017 tax year.

Steve Warner, chairman of the Sumner County Commission, said he just wants it to end.

“We just recently got the 2012 appeal finalized,” he said. “This is an ongoing burden of frustration that takes years and years and years ... It blows my mind how long it takes.”

Trying to sort it all out will be appeals court Judge Tony Powell, appeals court Judge Henry Green and Daniel Hebert, a senior judge.

The appeals court occasionally hears arguments in Wichita as part of an ongoing effort to allow Kansans who can’t travel to Topeka to attend court proceedings and learn about the system.

Powell said the judges are going to Northeast High because of its program to prepare students for careers in law and public service.

“We look forward to having the opportunity to visit with students and others about the work of our court and the role of the judiciary,” Powell said.

The Kansas Star case will be the last case of the day, starting at 1 p.m.

Four other cases will be heard, starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning:

▪  A case involving a woman who was denied disability after she broke her hip at a meat-packing plant in Junction City.

▪  A Seward County case of a man seeking a reduction in his sentence for sexual exploitation of a child.

▪  A Ford County case where a man is challenging his conviction on drug charges, arguing that the jury was improperly allowed to view video testimony while in deliberations.

▪  A Finney County case where a man is challenging his conviction for drunk driving and other traffic violations, claiming improper evidence was presented to the jury.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas