Sedgwick County Pulls Back On Gaming Revote

Sep 4, 2019

There won’t be a revote on allowing slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park in Sedgwick County anytime soon.

Sedgwick County commissioners decided Wednesday to pull back a resolution that would’ve put a ballot question before voters.

Some commissioners wanted a revote because they said public opinion on gambling changed and the county could reap economic benefits if Wichita Greyhound Park reopened.

Commission Chairman David Dennis said a gaming referendum is the authority of state lawmakers.

“It has never been a Sedgwick County issue," he said. "I’ve never felt that it was."

The dog track, located north of Wichita, closed in 2007 after Sedgwick County voters rejected a proposal to bring slot machines to the venue. Racetrack owner Phil Ruffin has tried to resurrect the facility over the years. He backed a local effort called Sedgwick First in 2016 seeking a revote and recently had a company conduct an independent survey on the issue.

Commissioner Pete Meitzner says 91% of the respondents in the poll said they wanted to be able to vote on adding slot machines to the greyhound park. Meitzner says that’s why he brought the issue of a revote to the county commission.

Credit RAINER HUNGERSHAUSEN / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

“A lot has changed in 12 years," Meitzner said. "It’s simply a vote, and allowing people to vote."

Dennis warned that a revote could open the county and state up to potential lawsuits.

“My concern is that we are going to take Sedgwick County taxpayer’s funding and we’re going to pay for a lawsuit that we’re not going to win,” Dennis said.

In 2007, the Kansas Legislature passed the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act (KELA). This authorized the state to own a "destination casino resort" in four gaming zones throughout the state. When Sedgwick County voters rejected a proposal to build a state-owned casino, Sumner County gained the casino allocated for the region. The Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane opened in 2011.

The Kansas Lottery contracts with private developers to manage the Kansas Star and three other state-owned casinos. The state and local counties each receive a percent of monthly casino revenues.

The Kansas Lottery issued a statement Tuesday while monitoring the county commission’s discussions.

“The state has long expressed its concern about a possible revote in Sedgwick County on this topic and the potential for significant liability on behalf of the state if passed,” said Kansas Lottery spokesperson Courtney Ryan.

The Kansas Legislature failed to pass two bills in recent years (HB 2537 and SB 427) that would have expanded gambling to racetracks. Ryan says there are no greyhound racing tracks operating in Kansas.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a legal opinion on a possible revote three years ago when lawmakers were debating the pending legislation. He said adding slot machines in Sedgwick County would violate the state Constitution, state law and the contract the state has with casino operators.

The discussion of resduming dog racing and possibly adding slot machines prompted a passionate public reaction in the last week. Dozens of people spoke at the commission meeting Wednesday or contacted commissioners through email or phone calls.

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