Twenty percent of something is better than 40 percent of nothing.

Twenty percent of something is better than 40 percent of nothing.
Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, said those were words often used by her southeast Kansas brother-in-arms Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee. They’re also possibly the best words to describe the purpose of a gaming bill Menghini introduced to the House Federal and State Affairs committee Thursday afternoon.
Menghini said she introduced the bill to attempt to spur gaming in the state, about two years after the Kansas Legislature passed a bill making expanded gaming legal.
“So far, we have nothing to show for our efforts,” Menghini said. “So I wanted to remove as many roadblocks as possible.”
Menghini said her bill included nine parts to accomplish five things. The first one would reduce the minimum level of investment in the Southeast Gaming Zone — made up of Crawford and Cherokee counties — from $250 million to $50 million. The second would drop the initial investment from $25 million to $5.5 million.
Both of those would put the Southeast Gaming Zone on equal footing with the Southwest Gaming Zone, which has actually seen about an $80 million investment.
“It doesn’t keep somebody from investing more if they want to,” Menghini said. “But it does give this a better chance of actually happening. It could help to drum up some interest.”
Interest was also the inspiration for the third part. That part states that, in the Southeast Gaming Zone only, a lottery gaming facility manager could also serve as the racetrack manager. Menghini said she had received some initial interest from the Ruffin family, which owns the New Frontier at Camptown Greyhound Park, in operating a combination race track/casino, also known as a racino.
The fourth part would lower the revenues the tracks and casinos would pay back to the state from slot machine revenue. One of the main reasons the Ruffins said they wouldn’t re-open Camptown, Menghini dropped that percentage down by 18 percent.
“I believe that money back to the facility manager would make it viable for Camptown and The Woodlands to reopen,” Menghini said. “In better times, and without the Downstream Casino (across the Oklahoma border), those weren’t bad numbers, but they were pretty tight. Now, they are just unreasonable.”
The fifth portion of the bill would condense several of the time frames, such as the 90 days the Kansas Lottery gets to review an application, to move the process along.
“The quicker we can get up and running, the quicker we can help stem some of the bleeding in the budget,” Menghini said.
Grant said he hoped the rough budget would lead to a well-received bill.
“I can’t tell you what the feelings are up here about tweaking gaming and such,” Grant said. “Before, it could be pretty contentious with people wanting to vote for gaming or against gaming.
“But looking at some of the programs that we’re having to cut, it could change some things,” Grant said. “I’m not into promoting anything specific, saying if we receive this revenue it will go to saving this or saving that. Let’s throw it in the general fund and use the damn money where we need it.”
Menghini said initial returns were good — one legislator who described himself as “anti-gaming,” approached her after the meeting and said he would support the bill.
“I hope that this turns into more than a gaming versus anti-gaming thing,” Menghini said. “The simple fact is that gaming is here. We approved it, and we might as well receive some revenues for it.
“I think it’s a great start. I want to give gaming a chance, and I believe this bill does. If we can’t get something from this, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Kevin Flaherty can be reached at kevin.flaherty@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 Ext. 134