Special Report: How would a casino help the SE KS economy? - KOAM TV 7

Special Report: How would a casino help the SE KS economy?

Southeast Kansas will soon have an opportunity to become a regional attraction in the casino industry.  In April, a state committee will chose one out of four casino proposals.  The decision will open the door for major development.  But what about local economic growth?  How much money would local governments receive every year?

Cherokee County casino proposals

"The reality is that if you're going to have a casino in Southeast Kansas, you need to be close to the population.  The population is Joplin, Springfield, Northwest Arkansas.  Within 70 miles, there's two million people to our location," says Greg Ferris, a consultant to the proposed Castle Rock Casino.

Castle Rock is near Interstate 44, and right across the street from Downstream Casino.

"We also think being next to the other casino, creates some synergy that will also be helpful to us," says Ferris.

"Right now, Cherokee County really gets a huge benefit from gaming, from Downstream and other casinos in our area.  I buy a lot of goods and services in Cherokee County," says John Berrey, chair of the Quapaw Tribe.

Cherokee County Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand disagrees.

"We've not seen a big increase in tax revenues.  Matter of fact, last year, our tax revenue was down.  Sales tax revenue was down," says Hilderbrand.

If a state committee chooses Cherokee County as the place for a new casino, the county would get two percent of the casino's gaming revenues, while nearby Crawford County would get one percent.

Castle Rock developers project after three years of operation, their $130 million resort casino would bring about $1.8 million in tax revenue for Cherokee County, with about $918,000 going to Crawford County.  Castle Rock would employ 1,000 people.

"Hockey is certainly a huge advantage for us," says Ferris.

That's right, hockey.

Castle Rock's proposal includes a 6,000 seat entertainment arena, home to a professional hockey team.

"The group that is building this casino is the owner of a Tulsa team, they own a Wichita team, they own a Texas team.  So they certainly know and understand hockey and believe that this is a good location for it," says Ferris.

The other project, by SE Kansas Casino Partners, would build a $181 million casino in almost the same area.  Cherokee County is projected to receive about $1.4 million after phase three of construction, Crawford County getting $710,000.  SE Kansas Casino Partners believe their proposal's wow factor is an arena and equestrian center, also with enough seats for 6,000 people.  SE Kansas Casino Partners say their project would employ 940.

When it comes to spurring economic growth for Cherokee County as a whole...

Hilderbrand says, "You go, what's that casino operator who's going to build that casino going to do?  Are they going to work with the community, or are they going to work with the cities and the counties?"

Cherokee County commissioners support both casino proposals, although only one will be built.

The developers behind both proposals in Cherokee County say they are prepared to compete with nearby Downstream Casino.  But developers behind another casino proposal in Pittsburg believe no one can compete with Downstream.

Crawford County casino proposals

About 38 miles away from Downstream Casino is the site of a former dog racing facility.

"It looks horrible.  It looks like Chernobyl," says Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey.

But the Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, Downstream's owner, sees potential.

"We could really go after that South Kansas City market," says Berrey.

The Quapaw Tribe wants to partner with casino businessman Phil Ruffin and renovate the old dog racetrack into an $84 million casino resort.  Ruffin owns Treasure Island in Las Vegas.  The new casino in Southeast Kansas would be called Emerald City.

"We already have the infrastructure there," says Berrey.

Emerald City is expected to generate $800,000 for Crawford County, $800,000 for Cherokee County, and $800,000 for the City of Frontenac, where Emerald City would be built.

Pittsburg's city manager sees potential with another casino proposal.

"For the City of Pittsburg, it would be huge," says Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall.

JNB Developers wants to build a $62 million at the corner of Highways 400 and 69, on land recently annexed by the City of Pittsburg.

"The statutes that regulate casinos, all the infrastructure, everything that's tied to it, has to be paid for by the casino.  So to have water and sewer lines run five miles away, and the catalyst that would be for future development," says Hall.

Developers of the Pittsburg casino, which would be called Kansas Crossing, won't say how much revenue they expect their casino to make.

"That's something we prefer the state and their consultants to determine," says Nancy Seitz with Kansas Crossing.

But if a casino is built in Pittsburg, the city would get one percent of gaming revenue, the same percentage cut Crawford and Cherokee counties would receive.

"When people come to our community and they approach us and they bring their own money and say we want to develop something, whether it's a waffle cart or casino, we want to welcome them into the community.  What they end up building is between them and the state, as far as I'm concerned," says Hall.

Both proposed casinos in Crawford County would include restaurants and event centers, but the proposed Kansas Crossing in Pittsburg has a hotel in phase one of construction.  

The Quapaw Tribe believes...

"We think ours is the most practical," says Berrey.

Berrey says his proposal has a competitive edge over the Pittsburg proposal.

"It's probably six to ten million dollars, so that's what they won't be spending on the facility.  So they have a big startup cost that we're bypassing," says Berrey.

JNB Developers, just like Downstream, has experience in the casino business.

"They've been behind two casinos, one in Dodge (City) and the one in Mulvane," says Hall.

In the end, though, there may be only one thing keeping any casino proposal from becoming reality.

"You've got the economics and you've got the politics.  If you don't think there's politics cookin', then you're pretty new to the area," says Hall.

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