Commissioners pull proposal to revive slot machines in Sedgwick County

Photo courtesy: MGN
Photo courtesy: MGN(WLUC)
Published: Sep. 3, 2019 at 4:19 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

In a unanimous decision, Sedgwick County Commissioners pulled a resolution that would have put gambling in the county on the November ballot.

Commissioner Pete Meitzner made the motion during Wednesday's meeting and asked that the Interim County Counselor draft a resolution to be presented to the Governor and State Legislature.

In 2007, voters rejected both a state-owned casino in Sedgwick County and allowing gaming machines at the Greyhound Park which closed because of that vote.

Moving forward, most of Sedgwick County's five commissioners agree the conversation on what happens with the Greyhound Park has to be at the state level.

They worried that allowing the vote to legalize electronic gaming in Sedgwick County could come with big risks by violating the state's contract with the Kansas Star Casino. That contract doesn't allow for gambling in Sedgwick County and violating that could lead to lawsuits, forcing taxpayers to front the cost.

"I think the biggest issue for me is putting the taxpayers at risk," Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell says. "I think a contract means something. I think you don't go willingly break a contract. Whether you like it or not, this is really a state issue."

Kansas lawmaker and former Park City Mayor Emil Bergquist says he's relieved by the commission's decision, saying laws would first need to be changed.

"Rather than finding ways to go around it or even encourage someone to incur a penalty, that's like encouraging someone to break the law," Bergquist says.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

comes with a lot of buildup as it pertains to a hot-button issue concerning gambling in the county.

If the commission passes the resolution Wednesday, the question of legalized electronic gambling machines in Sedgwick County could go to voters in the Nov. 5 general election. In 2007, such a question narrowly failed in Sedgwick County.

"The purpose of this resolution is to again put the proposition on the ballot for the Nov. 5, 2019 election to allow the voters of Sedgwick County another opportunity to determine if electronic gaming machines would be allowed at a parimutuel facility in Sedgwick County," information on the resolution up for county commission's consideration says.

With the "no" vote in Sedgwick County in 2007, a casino allocated for the Wichita area through the state-enacted Kansas Expanded Lottery Act had to be built in Sumner County where electronic gambling had approval.

With the conversation picking back up, specifically, many eyes are looking at the Wichita Greyhound Park in Sedgwick County where groups in recent years have pushed for racing to return with the addition of slot machines at the facility.

The question this time around for Sedgwick County is, "will voter approval be enough to clear the way for legal gaming?"

County commissioners say, it isn't that simple, especially with the state-ran Kansas Star Casino just miles from Wichita.

A key concern is that if the county moved ahead with plans to make gambling machines legal, it could face a stiff challenge from the state, triggering millions of dollars in attorney fees and fines.

Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis poses a key question at the heart of the county's future pertaining to the prospect of legalized gambling machines at a site like the Wichita Greyhound Park:

"If we pass this resolution (Wednesday) will will we get sued by the state of Kansas?"

Dennis says he's not opposed to gambling machines in the county, his concern is with the potential burden on taxpayers if a lawsuit happens.

"My concern is, 'are we going to take taxpayer money and pay for a lawsuit we aren't going to win?' And we are going to take Sedgwick County taxpayers' money and fight a lawsuit against us. So, in the end, who is going to be the winner and losers? Certainly not the taxpayers of Kansas and Sedgwick County," Dennis says.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner says at this point, the citizens of the county have expressed that they want to make their voices heard on the issue.

"Citizens want to vote. , that's plain and simple," Meitzner says. "All we are promising... If 91 percent of citizens want to vote, let them vote."

Commissioner Michael O'Donnell agrees, even though he's opposed to gambling in the county.

"I don't believe in gaming, but I do believe in allowing people to vote," he says. "...The most Democratic thing, in my opinion, is to allow a vote."

Commissioner Jim Howell says addressing the issue and properly putting out a question for voters to decide is complicated.

"If this was just asking voters what they want, that sounds like a very simple thing,and we do what people want, that's what we do in government," Howell says. "But this comes with a lot of baggage. There are a lot of things in this that make it much more complicated then, 'do they want to see slots at the Greyhound Park?' When they understand the full risk, it changes their answer."

He says to break a contract with the state of Kansas and its stake in the Kansas Star Casino without expecting penalties would be naive.

"If there are penalties, it's going to be taxpayers that are ultimately going to have to pay," Howell says.