House rejects ordering attorney general to challenge Mulvane casino

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, center, and Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, watch the overhead voting board during a razor-thin vote on House Resolution 6015.

TOPEKA — After a long debate on jobs, economics and the law, the House narrowly approved — and then rejected — a bill to order the attorney general to go to court to challenge the state’s approval of the Kansas Star casino in Mulvane.

House Resolution 6015 raised numerous challenges to the process used by the state Racing and Gaming Commission, which granted a casino permit to Peninsula Gaming last year.

The initial vote on the resolution was 59-63 against, but after several lawmakers changed their votes — Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, changed hers twice — the count was 63-59 in favor of advancing it to final action. But minutes later, the final action fell 59-62.

Minority Leader Paul Davis then immediately called for reconsideration, in an attempt to head off further moves to bring it back up. No supporters of reconsideration spoke, and as Republican supporters of the measure sought to stall and strategize, various Democrats called out “vote, vote, vote.”

Reconsideration was rejected 58-63, essentially killing the resolution for the rest of the legislative session.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, carried the resolution on the floor and asserted that some planning and zoning issues had not been resolved as required by state law when the commission granted permits to Peninsula.

“The Racing and Gaming Commission simply jumped the gun,” Brunk said.

The resolution also notes that executives of Peninsula have been charged with campaign-finance violations in Iowa. Peninsula officials have said they are confident they will be exonerated and in any case, the charges are misdemeanors that have never been deemed in other jurisdictions to disqualify anyone from casino operations.

The planned casino would technically be owned and operated by the state Lottery — a requirement to pass constitutional muster — and the private-sector developer/manager is required to have a clean background legally.

Brunk said he’s not satisfied by Peninsula’s explanations on the Iowa indictments, nor other legislators’ contention that “it’s nothing, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“The illegally funnelling of money into a backdoor gubernatorial race is serious business,” Brunk said.

Opponents of the resolution argued that further legal challenges would delay or eliminate jobs, cost the state money and hurt Kansas’ reputation as a place to do business.

EKay Economic Consultants has estimated the facility will generate $289 million in new revenue to the state, $20.9 million to Sumner County and $11 million to Sedgwick County in its first seven years. In addition, Peninsula has agreed to set up a $1.5 million educational fund to pay each graduating senior in the area a $1,000 scholarship, along with providing annual back-to-school grants of $100 for local students and $500 for teachers to buy school supplies.

The $260 million casino, hotel and equestrian center planned are expected to generate about 1,600 construction jobs and 1,400 permanent positions.

“One of the things that we heard when we came into session was job creation, job creation, job creation, job creation, job creation,” said Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita, “I ask you how many jobs has this legislative body done so far? Zip, doodah, nothing.”

Rep. John Grange, R-El Dorado, interrupted her speech to quiet lawmakers who were engaged in conversations around the room.

“Let’s work with her so we can listen in on what’s going on,” Grange told the representatives.

“I just thought I was addressing seventh graders,” replied Loganbill, a schoolteacher.

“Well, we do have children in the audience so let’s try to set a better example,” Grange told the unruly representatives.