|By Mary Clarkin, The Hutchinson News,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 6, 2008 - --Dodge City solidified its role Friday as the pioneer city for state-owned casino gambling in Kansas.
Dirt work will start this month to construct phase one of the nearly $90 million casino and resort project on the city's south end. The opening of the first casino component will occur by Dec. 5, 2009 -- exactly one year after the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission approved the background investigation of Olathe-based casino developer Butler National Service Corp.
News of the commission's approval closely followed on Friday Kansas Entertainment's announcement that it was withdrawing its application to develop a state-owned casino in Kansas City, Kan.
The recession also has stalled casino projects in southeast and south-central Kansas, leaving only the Dodge City casino currently moving forward.
In September, Penn National Gaming Inc. walked away from its contract for the Cherokee County casino, saying it couldn't compete with an Oklahoma casino so close to the state line. Then last month, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. said it was pulling out of Sumner County.
"We never expected that we would be the only one still standing," said Jeff Thorpe, president of Boot Hill Gaming Inc., Dodge City. "I think the impact only has to be very positive."
Casino plans for Dodge City won't be altered because of the stalled projects in the state's three other designated casino zones.
"We'll invite everyone to come to Dodge City," said Douglas Smith, project director for Butler National Service Corp.
Thorpe expects casino projects eventually will develop in the other regions, but he speculated that the Dodge City casino would be the only non-tribal casino operating in Kansas for "probably two or three years."
The delay is unfortunate for other areas, but it's good for Dodge City, said Jan Stevens, with the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Dodge City.
Financially, the Dodge City project is much smaller than the large urban-area casinos -- for example, the Wyandotte casino carried a $680 million cost estimate -- and that was an advantage in the current economy, in Thorpe's view.
A formal groundbreaking ceremony might be skipped, in the interest of time.
"It's far more important that we drive a 'dozer through there," said Thorpe.
When the first phase opens in 2009, it will offer 525 slot machines and 10 gaming tables. When the casino is completed, there will be about 1,000 slot machines and 20 tables. An upscale adjacent 125-room hotel also will be constructed in the casino complex, and a special events center will be built, too.
By withdrawing its application before being approved, Kansas Entertainment will get back the $25 million privilege fee it deposited with the state. The developer plans to revise its plans for the hotel-and-gambling complex in Kansas City, in view of the economy.
New bids for a casino in the southeast zone are due in January. The Kansas Lottery Commission will talk about new bids for the northeast and south-central zones at its Dec. 11 meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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