Politics & Government

Kansas House defeats bill prohibiting vote on slot machines at dog track

Patrons play slots at the Kansas Star casino.
Patrons play slots at the Kansas Star casino. File photo

Correction: Rep. Daniel Hawkins, R-Wichita who carried a bill to prohibit a vote on slot machines at dog tracks. A previous version of this story was incorrect.

The Kansas House has left open the possibility that Wichita Greyhound Park could one day reopen with slot machines.

Representatives voted 55-67 on Friday to reject a bill that would have prohibited another vote on slots at the track until 2032.

Voters narrowly voted down slots at the track in 2007. Former track operator Phil Ruffin has pressed for a revote in recent years.

Ruffin closed the track within days of losing the 2007 vote, saying the facility can’t be profitably run on revenue from racing alone.

Opponents of the bill said they saw it as taking away the right of Sedgwick County residents to make their own decisions on an issue of community concern.

“Our forefathers left England and formed our own country, giving every one of us the right to vote,” said Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita. “I’ve had people back home telling me, ‘Hey, you’re taking away my right to vote.’”

At the same time county voters rejected slots at the track, they soundly rejected a destination casino. The casino, the Kansas Star, ended up being built just south of the county line at Mulvane.

Those who wanted to prevent a revote on slots at the track said the state could be exposed to liability of as much as $80 million because existing casino operators, including the Kansas Star, could sue for refund of fees they paid to start their businesses.

“Allowing a revote to allow Wichita Greyhound Park to reopen with electronic gaming machines will be viewed as an expansion of gambling that is prohibited under the Kansas Lottery Expansion Act,” said Rep. Daniel Hawkins, R-Wichita, who carried the bill on the floor.

But opponents of the bill, including Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said any casinos would be unlikely to win such a suit.

Ward said the casino owners knew that slots at the track remained a possibility when they originally negotiated their contracts.

“I was there when we drafted the bill,” Ward said. “There was some request from the gaming industry that we make it a one-time-only vote. That was rejected.”

A Kansas Lottery note read during the debate was inconclusive, saying a successful revote “may” be considered an expansion of gambling that would trigger the refunds to the casinos.

Before any revote could take place, both the Legislature and the County Commission would have to approve it.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle