- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A proposal for blocking slot machines at a closed dog-racing track outside Wichita cleared the Kansas Senate on Tuesday night, even as its members passed a separate plan for bringing a casino to the state’s southeast corner.

The Senate approved the anti-slots bill on a 28-12 vote over the protests of Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. Hensley accused the Senate’s conservative Republican leaders of pushing the bill to punish Wichita Greyhound Park owner Phil Ruffin for backing moderate GOP incumbents who lost their seats in 2012 primaries.

Backers of the bill said it is designed only to settle the debate over slots at the Wichita-area park, which closed in 2007 after local voters narrowly rejected the idea. Ruffin said in January that he hoped to push for another vote so he could bring in slot machines and reopen the track.

Meanwhile, the Senate also approved a proposal from Sen. Jake LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican, to decrease the investment required by law for a casino in southeast Kansas. A developer is now required to invest at least $225 million and pay a $25 million fee to the state, and LaTurner’s bill would drop those figures to $50 million and $5.5 million.

A 2007 law authorizes slot machines at dog- and horse-racing tracks and one state-owned casino each in southeast Kansas and the Wichita, Dodge City and Kansas City areas. The casinos are owned by the Kansas Lottery, which hires developers to build and operate them. But southeast Kansas officials say the investment and fee required of developers has squelched interest in their area, particularly because the Quapaw Tribe built a casino just across the Oklahoma border.

Both measures go next to the House. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who supported both bills, said the chamber is not being inconsistent. Instead, each bill reflects the sentiment of residents in the area it affects, she said.

“They’re very community-driven bills,” Wagle said after the debate. “It’s kind of unique situations in both communities.”

Despite the 2007 law, owners of the dog- and horse-racing tracks have yet to install slots, arguing that the state’s 40 percent share of revenues is too high for them to make a profit. And Ruffin faces an additional hurdle at Wichita Greyhound Park, because the law requires local voters to approve slots first.

The bill advancing in the Senate would block any votes on slot machines in Sedgwick County until July 2032. Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican and chairman of the committee drafting the measure, said it’s designed only to honor the wishes of local voters, who have shown they oppose slots.

“What they’re trying to do is, for the next 20 years, not have to be facing another vote,” Ostmeyer said.

Ostmeyer also acknowledged that he agreed to a hearing on the anti-slots proposal to gain support from opponents of a proposed amendment to the state constitution to legalize charitable raffles. That amendment passed the Senate last month and received first-round approval Tuesday in the House.

But Hensley called the anti-slots bill “retribution.” In 2012, Ruffin contributed almost $145,000 to a short-lived political action committee, Kansas Wins, which supported moderate GOP incumbents, according to campaign finance reports. Conservative Republicans instead captured control of the Senate that year.

“I find this bill very repugnant,” Hensley said. “The people of Wichita, if they want to have a re-vote, they should have a re-vote.”

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