Politics & Government

Kansas lawmakers expect another push for slots at dog racing tracks

After a record year in lottery revenue and the opening of a third state-operated casino, House lawmakers expect advocates to again push for slot machines at dog racing tracks.

But Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, said the dog racing industry probably needs to show more potential for growth on its own before lawmakers would be likely to back a plan to allow slot machines at the tracks.

“It’s obvious that pari-mutuel gaming is not a hot item,” he said. “Maybe you just have to be the Kentucky Derby in order to draw the kind of things to make money at that.”

Siegfreid is the chair of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, where most gambling-related laws are first discussed. He said he expects another push to lower the $225 million minimum investment threshold for casinos in the southeast part of the state.

But he said it’s problematic because other casinos had to invest $225 million, and allowing a lower threshold raises legal questions of fairness for existing casinos.

Siegfreid said he does, however, think lawmakers may consider allowing a casino in the Junction City area because it could capture a lot of traffic from I-70.

Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback wanted lawmakers to avoid big discussions about gambling because of other priorities, such as reducing income taxes and redistricting. Siegfreid said he’s heard no suggestions of limiting the debate from Brownback or other legislative leaders this year.

Last year, advocates and lobbyists failed to advance a bill to let Sedgwick County residents vote again on whether to allow slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. Voters defeated that idea in a 2007 vote by a margin of 244 votes. But advocates for the slots say the ballot question led many to believe the move would have allowed gambling at gas stations and other locations.

Dennis Taylor, acting director of the Kansas Lottery, said Thursday that he has heard the growth of revenue from the state’s existing three casinos may be leveling off.

Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City drew about $43 million, the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane logged about $98 million and the new Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kan., recorded $35 million after being open only part of the year.

The state gets 22 percent of the revenues from casinos, with 73 percent going to casino companies and the rest going to city and county governments and the problem gambling fund.

Taylor said the state is projected to draw $79 million from the estimated $359 million in casino activity in 2013.

“The revenues you see now are not likely to grow exponentially absent something new,” he said.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said the state probably should get more than 22 percent of the profits.

“I’m not sure we negotiated the best deal there with the casinos,” he said.