Imagine the surprise that found southeast Kansas lawmakers on Friday when they learned of a new proposal that could squeeze the area out of a destination casino.



Imagine the surprise that found southeast Kansas lawmakers on Friday when they learned of a new proposal that could squeeze the area out of a destination casino.
Late Thursday night, state Rep. James Fawcett, a Junction City Republican, filed a bill that would add a northcentral Kansas county as a possible gaming zone, in addition to Crawford and Cherokee counties — which make up the current SE Gaming Zone.
“I’ll tell you what, you want to talk about surprised,” said Rep. Bob Grant, a Cherokee Democrat. “I know what the Americans who were left a Pearl Harbor felt like.”
The bill creates an ‘either’ proposal that states potential casino developers can choose to build in the SE Gaming Zone, or the new Northcentral Gaming Zone — Geary County. The proposal does not allow for a casino in both zones.
The bill was introduced in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee — the committee the bill would likely be heard if assigned. That committee is known as an exempt committee and is not subject to turnaround — the deadline for bills to clear one chamber and go into the other— which takes place next week.
“I’m a very patient person and I told the constituents who elected me that I would look into it,” said Fawcett, who was elected to his post in 2010. “I think this is an appropriate way of letting people know that Junction City was still interested if one of the four compacts became available.”
Fawcett added that the measure was nothing more than a campaign promise to voters who have sought to be part of the state’s casino efforts since the passage of Senate Bill 66 in 2006. He said that Geary County voters approved the measure by 70 percent in a non-binding election in 2005, similar to Crawford and Cherokee county voters.
The bill does not address horse and dog tracks like a measure introduced by Grant and Rep. Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat, during the onset of the recent session. Their bill lowers the investment minimums for a destination casino in the SE Gaming Zone from its current $225 million to $100 million. Fawcett’s bill takes that a step farther and decreases the minimum investment in either zone to $50 million — the same minimum set in Ford County, the only location where a casino has been developed.
“All he wants is a casino and, what he fails to realize is that the horse and dog breeders are all across the state,” said Gatewood. “It’s critical that we get that industry up and running.”
Fawcett said that the reason he did not include horse and dog tracks was because it does not apply to the zone he is interested in creating. Grant and Gatewood’s measure would increase the percentage of revenue horse and dog track owners would collect from slots to 58 percent, from its current 40 percent, a measure that Camptown and Wichita Greyhound Park owner Phil Ruffin Sr. said would make the track profitable.
State Rep. Terry Calloway, a Pittsburg Republican, said he found out about the new bill on Friday during the floor session of the House.
“I’ve said, up front, the legislation that Bob and Doug have come up with I will support,” said Calloway. “I wasn’t very happy about this latest bill either. It doesn’t do us any good.”
Gatewood said that Fawcett had not previously discussed his plan with them before filing the bill on Thursday.
“I think this was done for political reasons,” said Gatewood. “He just wanted to put it out there and stir the pot and get under the skin of ... well, Bob and I.
“We’re not going to let this deter us or detract us. We are going to keep doing what we think is best for southeast Kansas.”