Effort in Kansas Senate aimed at reviving racing becomes mired in dispute over smoking ban

By John Hanna, AP
Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kan. Senate work on gambling mired in smoking fuss

TOPEKA, Kan. — An effort in the Kansas Senate to revive the state’s dog- and horse-racing industry became mired Friday night in a contentious debate over banning smoking in state-owned casinos.

The Senate spent five hours debating a bill designed to make slot machines more profitable for the owners of now-closed racetracks in Kansas City, Kan., and Frontenac, in southeast Kansas. It also would rewrite Kansas’ gambling laws to attract a developer for a state-owned casino in the state’s southeast corner.

But a vote on the gambling bill was delayed into Friday night by debate tied to a recently enacted ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places. The ban, which takes effect July 1, contains an exemption for the gambling areas of state-owned casinos, which strikes some legislators as hypocritical.

Senators sent mixed signals on the issue. First, they amended the bill to ban smoking in casinos. Several hours later, with fears mounting the provision would kill the bill, they voted to delay the ban until 2014.

Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a conservative Fowler Republican, then demanded — and got — time to draft a proposed amendment to delay the implementation of the state’s new anti-smoking law until 2014. Senate leaders canceled the chamber’s dinner break and took up other legislation, leaving a vote on gambling until later.

Gambling supporters worried banning smoking in state-owned casinos would hurt business, and cost the state revenues. Developers build and manage the casinos for the Kansas Lottery, which owns the rights to the new gambling and the gambling equipment. One casino opened in Dodge City in December, and another is under construction at Kansas Speedway, the NASCAR track in Kansas City, Kan.

“That is a deal-changer,” said Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican pushing the gambling bill. “It throws all their economic strategy in the wastebasket.”

But conservative Republicans criticized gambling supporters who’d previously voted to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places.

“We gave our businesses, the state-owned businesses, an advantage,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

The debate over smoking overshadowed the reasons some senators are pushing the gambling bill. Supporters argue the state could reap up to $20 million a year from slots at racetracks, plus additional revenues from a southeast Kansas casino.

Some senators wanted to allow a second vote on slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. Sedgwick County voters rejected the idea in 2007, and the track closed shortly afterward.

But the vote was 20-18 against allowing the second vote.

“Our people have spoken,” said Sen. Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican. “Let it alone.”

State law caps track owners’ share of slots revenues at 40 percent; the bill would raise it to 58 percent. The law requires a developer to invest $225 million in a southeast Kansas casino; the bill would drop the figure to $100 million.

The bill is supported by two small, decades-old operations, Eureka Downs in Eureka, which runs horses, and Anthony Downs in Anthony, which runs dogs and horses. Neither would be allowed to have slots, but slots revenues would help subsidize their short summer seasons.

Neither Anthony nor Eureka plans to have racing this year because the state can’t subsidize them.

That prospect brought Earl Sutton and William Turere from Eureka to protest outside the Statehouse. Sutton, a 126-pound quarterhorse jockey, wore his white silks and black boots and carried a sign promoting the industry. Turere wore a horse suit.

Sutton’s father was a jockey, and he hopes his 6-year-old son will be one someday.

But if the bill doesn’t pass, Sutton said, “He won’t have nothin’ to grow up to.”

Gambling legislation is Senate Sub for HB 2180.

On the Net:

Kansas Legislature: www.kslegislature.org


May 8, 2010: 11:08 am

All that has to be done is to see the Illinois ban chasing customers to the casinos in the surrounding states.

will not be displayed