Politics & Government

Wichita council member says Kansas Star Casino ‘strip-mining’ city’s convention business

“From the very beginning, Kansas Star has been positioned as a multipurpose facility, capable of hosting a wide variety of events,” casino executive David Strow said.
“From the very beginning, Kansas Star has been positioned as a multipurpose facility, capable of hosting a wide variety of events,” casino executive David Strow said. File photo

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner has accused the Kansas Star Casino of “strip-mining” the local convention and entertainment business.

“I’m concerned and continue to be concerned that the casino in Mulvane was sold with the premise that all the events were going to be equine, horse- and animal-related events, and to this day there’s only been a couple (of those),” Meitzner said Tuesday. “They continue to take shows.

“We have conventions here in Wichita, and they approach those conventions and ask them to come next year down there and so they’re kind of strip-mining from our stuff when it was sold as equine.”

We have conventions here in Wichita, and they approach those conventions and ask them to come next year down there and so they’re kind of strip-mining from our stuff.

Pete Meitzner, Wichita City Council

After the meeting, Meitzner said several people who have held conventions in Wichita have told him they were contacted by representatives of the Kansas Star seeking their future business. He would not identify those convention organizers, saying he wanted to protect their confidentiality.

An executive with Boyd Gaming, the Las Vegas-based company that operates the Kansas Star, acknowledged that the casino hosts more concerts and general entertainment than horse events, but said it was never billed as an equestrian-only venue.

David Strow, vice president of corporate communications for Boyd, did not directly address Meitzner’s assertion that the company approaches organizers of conventions in Wichita and tries to lure their future business to the casino.

When we book events at Kansas Star, whether they’re meetings, conventions or shows, we’re bringing new people into the area. And when we do that, we’re benefiting the entire south-central Kansas region.

David Strow, vice president, Boyd Gaming

“I don’t want to get into an argument on that point,” he said.

He said that when the casino lands a concert or convention, it benefits the entire south-central Kansas region, Wichita included.

“From the very beginning, Kansas Star has been positioned as a multipurpose facility, capable of hosting a wide variety of events,” Strow said. “When we book events at Kansas Star, whether they’re meetings, conventions or shows, we’re bringing new people into the area.”

Gambling money

Meitzner made his comment during a council review of the recently concluded state legislative session, where lawmakers considered but didn’t act on a proposal to hold a public revote on the question of slot machines at the shuttered Wichita Greyhound Park.

After Tuesday’s council meeting, he said he thinks the Kansas Star can afford to sell tickets to its concerts and events at lower prices than Wichita venues because the casino will make money from concert-goers who gamble before and after the event.

He noted the casino has built a 300-room hotel, as big as any in Wichita. “They’re not doing that on horse shows and rodeos,” Meitzner said.

Strow said the company does not use its gambling revenue to undercut other venues’ ticket prices.

“We consider that (entertainment) business on a stand-alone basis … and we are not assuming any direct benefit on the gaming side of the business,” Strow said. “We are trying to make money on the events.”

He said events are priced to be competitive for the market.

Wichita Greyhound Park has sat idle since 2007, when Sedgwick County voters rejected two gambling-related measures on the ballot. One would have allowed the destination casino for south-central Kansas to be built in the county, and the other would have allowed electronic gaming machines at the dog-racing track north of Wichita.

Sumner County voters approved having a casino in their county, and the Kansas Star ended up being built just south of the Sedgwick County line, at the Mulvane exit off the Kansas Turnpike.

‘Big-name’ acts

The Kansas Star’s arena page makes no mention of rodeo or equestrian events, describing the facility as “a new home for big-name national acts” in south-central Kansas.

Its Facebook page archive showed four large rodeo events since 2014: the Clem McSpadden National Finals of Steer Roping, the Don Gay Bull Riding Tour Finals, and two rounds of Boyd Gaming’s self-produced “Chute Out Rodeo.”

Strow said the casino hosted 13 equestrian events in the past two years, seven in 2014 and six in 2015. Many of those events did not show up on the casino’s online event calendar because there was no charge for admission, he said.

Headline entertainers that have played the casino include Foreigner, LeeAnn Rimes, Deep Purple, Styx, Pat Benatar, Rodney Carrington and Celtic Woman, along with a variety of other musicians, comedians and various “tribute” shows simulating the songs and styles of famous performers.

State owns only gaming

Under the state constitution, all gambling in Kansas has to be owned and operated by the state through the Kansas Lottery. The casino operator manages the operation under contract to the state.

“We don’t own the entertainment, we don’t own the convention center, the arena; that’s not state-owned,” said Keith Kocher, director of gaming facilities for the state. “We only own the gaming.”

During the selection process to choose a casino operator, members of the Racing and Gaming Commission did express support for the equestrian focus of the Kansas Star, over a competing proposal near Wellington that would have been built around auto racing.

But Kocher said the developers of the Kansas Star made it clear it would offer more non-equestrian events.

“I was at all of the presentations that were made to the review board, and I can say without a doubt they did not limit what they were going to do by way of entertainment and conventions to just equine,” Kocher said. “They definitely mentioned other types of entertainment.”

And, he said the lack of equestrian events to date could be more a matter of the calendar, because the casino’s main arena wasn’t opened until January of last year, and major horse shows are scheduled two to three years in advance.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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