The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission (KRGC) has made it possible for the billionaire Phil Ruffin to open a casino in the Wichita area.
Last week, the KRGC granted Ruffin’s Golden Circle Casino the state’s only license to operate 1,000 historical horse racing (HHR) machines. After years of battle, the Wichita native can put gambling machines inside the casino where Wichita Greyhound Park stood before closing in 2007.
Ruffin owns the Treasure Island and Circus Circus resorts and is the co-owner of Trump International Tower.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Phil Ruffin Jr., the future general manager of Golden Circle, said:
“We are ecstatic with the news. We’ve been working to try to renovate and reopen Wichita Greyhound Park.”
KRGC disqualifies the only other Wichita casino license bidder
The commission rejected the other finalist for the Wichita casino license, developer George Laham. His partnership with Boyd Gaming Inc. influenced the rule change. Boyd already operates Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane in collaboration with the state lottery.
The KRGC decided not to allow the same company to operate two different types of gaming facilities in the same gaming zone. Kansas Expanded Lottery Act, which allows casino resorts in four gaming zones throughout Kansas, says there can only be one facility per zone.
Meanwhile, the Golden Circle casino proposal received letters of support from local public figures, including:
- Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner
- Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins
- Former Wichita City Council member Sharon Fearey
- Former Sedgwick County Sheriff Mike Hill
While Ruffin received letters of support and is the only candidate, it does not imply his casino will get the license. It means that the KRGC is considering giving a license to Ruffin’s casino or none at all.
Three-floor Kansas casino to open next year
Wichita Greyhound Park near 77th Street North and Hydraulic has been closed since 2007. Ruffin plans to spend $128 million to renovate it into a three-floor casino which will include:
- 1,000 HHR machines on the first floor
- Bars and TV broadcasting live horse races on the second and third floors, as well as various dining options
Golden Circle is expected to open in 14 months. Ruffin Jr. said:
“We’re going to have restaurants and pizza by the slice and smoothies and all kinds of great food from our executive chef in Las Vegas, who’s going to come down and train our staff.
We’re a long way away. We’re about 14 months until open. And I want to be ahead of schedule and under budget. It’s a long row to hoe, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Ruffin Jr also revealed there wouldn’t be any live racing conducted on that property: “No horse racing or dog racing. There will be simulcast horse racing. There will be video walls and great restaurant options, a Gilley’s Dance Hall and Saloon with the Gilley’s All Star Band and line dancing and barbecue.”
Once Golden Circle opens, Ruffin plans to build a 110-bed hotel.
Kansas casinos collect over $103M in gaming taxes during FY2022-23
Last year, the Kansas Legislature passed a bill that legalized sports betting.
The 2022 bill allowing sports betting also permitted the KRGC to award one license to operate 1,000 historical horse racing machines in Sedgwick County. These machines look like slots but use anonymized horse racing results instead of random numbers to determine the bets’ outcome.
During the 2022-23 fiscal year (July 2022 to June 2023), Kansas’s four casinos generated a little over $407.1 million in gaming revenue, with June being the weakest month in the state to date. During that period, Kansas collected over $103 million in gaming taxes.