Bill for luring casino to southeast Kansas passes

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A proposal designed to bring a state-owned casino to southeast Kansas cleared the state Legislature on Wednesday and is going to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The House approved a bill that lowers the investment required from a prospective developer for a southeast Kansas casino from $225 million to $50 million by a vote of 84-36. The measure also decreases an extra fee charged by the state to a developer to $5.5 million from $25 million.

The Senate approved the bill last week. Brownback has not said whether he’ll sign it, but the bill’s passage capped five years of work by southeast Kansas legislators.

“This will be a job-maker and bring more businesses in,” said Rep. Michael Houser, a Columbus Republican whose district includes the most likely site for a new casino in the state’s far southeast corner.

A 2007 law authorized one state-owned casino each in southeast Kansas and the Wichita, Dodge City and Kansas City areas. The Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the gambling but hires private developers to build and operate each casino, with the state claiming a share of the revenues.

Only one company initially showed an interest in a southeast Kansas casino: Penn National Gaming Inc., of Wyomissing, Pa. However, it walked away from its 2008 contract with the lottery, citing competition from a casino opened by the Quapaw Tribe of northeast Oklahoma. The casino sits so close to the state line that its parking lot is in Kansas.

The Great Recession also dampened interest in a casino, and local officials and legislators have said the investment and fee required by law are too high.

Meanwhile, state-owned casinos opened south of Wichita and in Dodge City and Kansas City, heightening the frustrations of southeast Kansas officials who for years were among the most vocal supporters of expanded legalized gambling.

But during Wednesday’s brief House debate on the bill, one southeast Kansas lawmaker, Rep. Virgil Peck, a conservative Tyro Republican, was skeptical that developers would be interested in competing against multiple tribal casinos in Oklahoma, even with the lower investment requirement. He also said a new casino would hurt local businesses and increase the number of people with gambling addictions.

“If we want to increase social costs in southeast Kansas, you should vote for this,” Peck said.

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Information on pro-casino bill: http://bit.ly/1mtVLcT

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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