With multiple conditions, approval was recommended for the reopening of The Woodlands as an electronic gaming venue, racetrack, and entertainment facility.

On Monday night, extensive public testimony was heard by the Planning Commission in Kansas City, Kansas, for and against a special use permit application requested by Ruffin Woodlands LLC, according to the Kansas City Star. The company is headed by real estate developer and casino owner, Phil Ruffin. In an 8-2 vote by the Planning Commission, the request will be sent along to be considered further by the Unified Government Commission. Attached to the approval were more than a dozen stipulations regarding eventual project details.

The plan by Ruffin Woodlands LLC’s, calls for an electronic gambling and entertainment facility with horse racing on 317 acres of a 400-acre site. Ruffin, who owns other racetracks or casinos in Kansas and Nevada, proposes a $70 million investment in a “racino” at The Woodlands. Ruffin purchased the Wyandotte County racetrack, which has been closed since 2008, for an undisclosed amount from former owner Howard Grace in 2015.

A change in the Kansas’ gambling statutes is also sought by Ruffin Woodlands to level the playing field by reducing the percentage of gambling revenue from racetrack-based machines casinos are required to pay the state to the same as what currently licensed casinos pay. In accordance with the law, racetracks now pay 40 percent of electronic gaming revenue, compared with the 22 percent that the states’ existing casinos, such as Hollywood Casino, are required to pay.

However, a supporter of the nearby Hollywood Casino, the Protect the Partnership group, argues that Ruffin should have to adhere to the same detailed and lengthy public planning process that the Kansas Speedway’s gambling facility had to before the state approved its gambling license. Protect the Partnership also contends that existing operating contracts with Hollywood Casino could be threatened by Ruffin’s proposal, as well as hurt tax revenues in Wyandotte County.

Representing Ruffin Woodlands, Lathrop & Gage attorney R. Scott Beeler, said less than $200,000 in property taxes is generated by the site now. However, if The Woodlands was rebuilt and reopened as proposed, that number would increase to approximately $1.8 million annually. Beeler said that the facility would be privately built, “unlike Hollywood Casino, we are asking for no public incentives, no tax dollars for Ruffin Woodlands.” Several neighbors are on board and say that reopening The Woodlands would create more tax revenues, which could be directed to the public schools in the county.

Meanwhile, Kansas legislators are considering amending state gambling laws – House Bill 2537 – (pdf) to provide a greater financial incentive to developers who open gambling facilities featuring dog or horse racing, and on March 16, an informational hearing was held on the economic impact of reopening The Woodlands. In that meeting lobbyists at the House Appropriations Committee declared the shifting of a greater percentage of revenue from the state to track operators perfectly legal. While attorneys for rival factions said revisions would be a breach of contract that could end up costing the state in excess of $100 million by refunding the fees paid by three casinos operating in the state.

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