Capital Journal – Legislators tackle gambling until early hours but reach no consensus

Legislators tackle gambling until early hours but reach no consensus
By Tim Carpenter

The Capital-Journal

Published Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rep. Anthony Brown took a deep breath before revealing a family secret to members of the House.
In the midst of a 12-hour floor debate on a bill permitting state-sanctioned gambling at casinos and racetracks in Kansas , Brown spoke of his late father-in-law. Jacob Weber was a successful Atchison businessman for decades, he said. But the man also was tormented by an addiction to casino gambling.

Of course, the Eudora Republican said, Weber won a pile of cash. He also lost big. In 1998, the deficit was $750,000.

Losses eventually stripped Weber of career, marriage and pride.

“He died penniless,” said Brown, his words expelled between sobs.

Brown’s story preceded a request to amend the gambling bill to include a prohibition on use of credit cards and a ban on ATMs in casinos. To the surprise of a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats orchestrating action on the bill, Brown’s amendment passed 59-58.

His motion was among dozens considered Friday and Saturday during a marathon clash on the touchstone issue of the 2007 session.

Casinos, slots

Bleary-eyed House members finished at 2:30 a.m. Saturday by voting 65-50 to advance the gambling bill to final action Monday. It is expected to pass and move to the Senate.

The House bill permits casinos in four zones: Wyandotte County , Sedgwick or Sumner counties, Crawford or Cherokee counties, and Ford County . Slot machines – 2,200 to 2,800 – would be split among Wichita Greyhound Park, Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan., and Camptown Greyhound Park in Frontenac.

Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, and a chief architect of the bipartisan gaming plan, said the deal would generate $238 million annually for the state if fully implemented.

Casino developers would pay an upfront fee of $25 million to the state and agree to invest at least $250 million in each “destination” casino. The Ford County casino would be smaller in scope and subject to reduced investment triggers.

The state’s 22 percent share of casino revenue and 40 percent of slot revenue at racetracks wasn’t earmarked in the bill.

Each gambling development would be subject to a countywide vote. If approved, there is revenue sharing for city and county governments in the zone. Two percent would go to help problem gamblers.

The bill reauthorizes the Kansas Lottery for 15 years and sets a 25-year moratorium on expansion of casino gambling beyond the bill.

The House also gave tentative approval to a proposed state constitutional amendment on casino gambling.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, read Scripture on the House floor to caution against this quest for quick money.

“My son, let no one entice you,” he said. “Do not consent if they say, ‘Come with us, let us ambush the innocent, let us swallow them alive. We will find all kinds of precious wealth. We will fill our houses with spoil.’ My son, do not walk in that way. Keep your feet from their path, for their feet run to evil.”

Brown’s loss

Just before midnight, Brown felt the brunt of a House rule allowing anyone on the prevailing side of a vote to call for reconsideration.

House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, turned to this parliamentary device to seek a second vote on Brown’s amendment banning ATMs and credit cards.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Brown declared. “For God sakes, people.”

He pleaded with House members to set politics aside and do what was right.

“Some things are not a game here!” Brown said.

Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he admired Brown’s courage for sharing a painful life experience. He said the bill sets aside $17 million each year to aid people unable to gamble responsibly.

It also was noted Brown’s amendment contained a previously undisclosed maximum weekly loss limit of $500. Casinos in Missouri have a daily loss cap of $500.

“The amendment is unfeasible,” Davis said.

On the second vote, Brown’s amendment was defeated 61-59.

Role reversal

One peculiar aspect of the debate was a torrent of more than 50 proposed amendments. Some dealt with substantive policy, but most were crafted to irritate the bipartisan gambling coalition or undermine overall support for the measure.

Rep. Ben Hodge, R-Overland Park , pushed an amendment setting aside 40 percent of gambling revenue for teacher salaries. In case his political point was missed, he added: “A vote for this is a vote for teachers. A vote against this is a vote against teachers.”

His amendment was crushed 43-73.

Rep. John Faber, R-Brewster, offered an amendment allocating 15 percent of gambling revenue to all-day kindergarten classes in public schools.

It is an initiative supported by the governor but opposed by many legislators.

This amendment was dismissed 45-70.

Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, proposed a ban on smoking in casinos.

“We all know smoking is not good for our health,” he said.

The vote against his idea was 48-68.

As amendments cascaded down, patience wore thin.

“Let’s quit playing games,” said Rep. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park .

Final roll of dice

With the clock winding toward 2:30 a.m., Brown made one more run. His final amendment dropped the weekly $500 loss limit but retained ATM and credit card prohibitions.

“I know the handwriting is on the wall, because some people who were with me the first time aren’t looking me in the eyes this time,” he said.

He confessed to naively believing legislators would follow him if he spoke from the heart about his family’s experience.

“Just give them that one slim chance to walk away,” he begged.

This amendment went down 59-55.

Policy for sale

Willingness to drop Brown’s idea of limiting easy credit brought Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, out of her seat. She said it was the “saddest day” of her 12-year legislative career, and she declared the vote indicated policy was for sale in the House.

She pointed to the influence of Phil Ruffin, a billionaire who owns Wichita Greyhound Park . Ruffin bought former President Bill Clinton’s tie for $26,000 at a recent Democratic Party event in Topeka .

Voting in the House shows the chamber marches to Ruffin’s beat, she said.

She vowed her vote against the gambling bill would highlight her loyalty was “not for sale to a billionaire from Nevada .”

Tim Carpenter can be reached at (785) 296-3005 or timothy.carpenter@cjonline.com.

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