Dodge City casino opens as Kansas bets on revenues

AP News
Posted: Dec 16, 2009 8:02 AM

Hundreds of people turned up Tuesday for the opening of a casino in Dodge City, launching a new franchise for Kansas and reviving memories of the once-raucous cowtown that inspired television's "Gunsmoke."

At least a few players liked the idea of their coins and dollars supporting state programs, as revenues from the Boot Hill Casino and Resort will go to the state. But customers came more for the spin of the roulette wheel and slot machines with names like "Zeus" and _ of course, in Kansas _ "The Wizard of Oz."

"I think it's going to boost the economy," said Lori Hendricks, 47, an auto parts store employee from Montezuma, 25 miles to the southwest. "People will come and spend their money in the community."

Hendricks, who said she visits casinos a few times a year, was able to avoid her usual six- or seven-hour drive to Kansas City.

About 100 people were lined up when Boot Hill opened, and several hundred more came through in the first few hours. A ribbon-cutting was planned for Wednesday, when Gov. Mark Parkinson was to visit.

Boot Hill is the first complex built under a 2007 state law authorizing one casino in each of four areas to generate revenue for the state. A private developer built the casino and will manage it, but the state lottery owns the rights to the gambling and the gambling equipment, down to the cards and dice. Kansas is the only state with such an arrangement, according to the American Gaming Association.

The casino complex opened with 20,000 square feet of gambling space, 584 slot machines and 12 tables for blackjack, poker, craps and roulette, along with a bar, a restaurant and a snack bar. The second phase, to be completed by 2012, includes a 124-room hotel. Butler National Corp., based in Olathe, has committed to spending nearly $90 million on the project.

Butler National expects the casino to generate nearly $44 million in net gambling revenues during its first year. The state's share would be almost $10 million.

"I feel like I ain't just throwing my money away," said William Alcorn, a 48-year-old painter from Greensburg, who was playing a slot machine. "It goes to a good cause."

Even as the casino opened, however, local mental health professionals were discussing a safety net for treating gambling addictions. By law, a portion of casino revenues go to such programs.

"We understand that there are going to be people who develop a problem who wouldn't have if a casino weren't here," said Debbie Snapp, executive director of the local Catholic Social Service.

Some western Kansas residents were just happy to have the casino hiring. It opened with 286 employees and expects to eventually have about 600. Robert Bridle, a craps dealer, had worked as an auto dealership's finance manager until this spring.

"I got laid off, and I decided I might want a change in my career," the 36-year-old Dodge City resident said.

Dodge City seemed a natural site for a casino to some local officials and legislators, given its history as a wicked western town in the 1870s and 1880s and a place where famed lawman Wyatt Earp also was a faro dealer. The city once had 18 or 19 saloons _ including the famous Long Branch _ and most had gambling, said Jeff Thorpe, the president of a local group that lobbied for the casino law.

The wild times led to a backlash, as Dodge City residents sought a more sedate community, and the gambling disappeared. Eventually, the cowtown of the past lived on only in "Gunsmoke," which originally aired from the 1950s to the 1970s.