Politics & Government

Sedgwick County rejects move for slot machines at defunct Wichita Greyhound Park

After a firestorm of opposition from animal-rights and anti-gambling activists, Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously rejected a move to reopen Wichita Greyhound Park as a “racino” with slot machines and dog racing.

The commission had considered putting a measure on the November election ballot that would have asked residents if they wanted to allow slot machines at the defunct race track, which track owner Phil Ruffin has said is the key to reopening the facility.

The commission indefinitely tabled action Wednesday after hearing from a parade of residents, almost all of whom were opposed to slots at the track.

Wichita activist Donna Wirth pointed out that under the legislation that enabled slot machines at tracks, the facility would have to restart the racing operation.

She noted that there is strong opposition to dog racing because of the impact on the animals and there is no mention of bringing back racing in the proposed ballot measure.

“Is this the intent, getting someone’s vote by misrepresentation, subterfuge?” she said. “Let people know what they will really be voting on. Do not vote for this back-door resolution on gaming machines, which if you put it on the ballot will deceive voters into authorizing greyhound racing in Sedgwick County. When is it OK to deceive constituents rather than being up front with them?”

The greyhound park has been closed since shortly after an Aug. 2007 election when voters overwhelmingly rejected a destination casino in the county and narrowly said “no” to a “racino” with slot machines at the greyhound track.

When Sedgwick County rejected expanded gambling, proponents turned their attention to the south. The Kansas Star Casino was built just south of the Sedgwick County line at the Mulvane exit of the Kansas Turnpike.

Neighborhood activist George Theoharis was the only one to speak in favor of the proposal, saying Sedgwick County residents are going to gamble anyway, whatever local government may do.

“If the only way to get the casino is to let greyhounds run, let it be,” he said. “Keep that money in Sedgwick County The greyhounds must be treated properly, no cruelty.”

Forty-one states have banned dog racing. Several others, including Kansas, don’t have racing but still have legislation allowing it on the books.

Monica Marks called dog racing “a rich white man’s version of dog fighting” and said when the greyhound park was open, “it was gross and weird and always empty; it didn’t make money.”

She accused the commission of catering to Ruffin.

“We’ve already voted on this,” she said. “This sounds like this rich guy is buying this vote.”

Former Cessna CEO Russ Meyer said gambling is a state issue, not a county issue, and the proposed vote would be meaningless and a waste of time and money.

“Sedgwick County spoke loud and clear on this issue in 2007 after months and millions of dollars spent on (campaign) advertising by the gambling interests,” he said.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.