Commissioners: Slot machine vote could lead to lawsuits and penalties

Local

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The talk of slots coming to Sedgwick County is moving forward as commissioners are set to discuss and possibly vote on the item in Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Even with the risk of lawsuits and penalties hanging over the heads of Sedgwick County and the state of Kansas, commissioners will move forward with the discussion, despite a recommendation to remove the topic from the agenda.

According to commissioners, a poll was conducted by the Greyhound Track owners and the results show 91% of people would like the change to vote again.

Sedgwick County attorney Mike Pepoon has drafted a resolution that would authorize a re-vote for slots.

“I would say there’s probably a reasonable chance there will be a lawsuit either by the Attorney General or one of the casinos, Kansas Star Casino,” said Pepoon.

Lawsuits would stem from a contract the state of Kansas has with Kansas Star Casino, allowing only one location for electronic gaming per zone according to officials at the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.

According to Pepoom, there would also be a penalty for breaking that contract. They include a $25 million privilege fee and 10 percent interest fee from 2010 to the date the violation occurs.

“We’re gonna take the state of Kansas taxpayers money and we’re gonna fight a lawsuit against us?” said David Dennis, chairman of Sedgwick County Commission. “At the end, who are gonna be the winners and losers? It’s certainly not gonna be the taxpayers in Kansas and Sedgwick County.”

But, some commissioners think allowing the people to vote is worth the risk.

“Citizens want to vote,” said Pete Meitzner, county commissioner. “Plain and simple. That’s all we’re promoting. If 91% of citizens want to vote, let them vote.”

If approved by commissioners, voters would be asked the big question in an advisory election that could cost the county more than $200,000.

According to Pepoon, that advisory election (see below) would be a type of special election and could not occur at the same time as a general election.

“This is not as simple as it sounds,” said Jim Howell, county commissioner. “We’re not just adding an opportunity to Sedgwick County, we’re actually putting ourselves at risk for lawsuits and that’s the major issue here.”

Commissioners seem to be split on the idea of electronic gaming and the repercussions that come along with another election. But, the contract with the state and Kansas Star Casino would expire in a little more than a decade, leaving room for this option again in the future.

“Keep our word with the state of Kansas, do what the contract says should happen and let that thing play itself out,” said Howell. “In time, that’s an option in the future.”

Other concerns for citizens and commissioners include dog racing. In Kansas, it is still legal and could be done now if so desired.

A commissioner tells KSN that the owners of Kansas Star Casino are prepared with their lawyers to make a move if needed.

Commissioners will discuss and potentially vote on this item in Wendesday’s (Sept. 4) meeting. It is open to the public and starts at 9 a.m.

KSN will be there and continue to update you on this story online and on-air.

Digital Extra:

Kansas Secretary of State defines Advisory Elections as:

An advisory election is an election at which the views of a particular electorate are solicited through the balloting process with respect to a specific issue or question, and the expression of such views has no binding effect upon the governing body soliciting such opinion. [Blevin v. Board of Douglas County Commissioners, 251 Kan. 374, 383 (1992), quoted in Attorney General Opinion 94-106]

Legal Basis

Citizens do not possess any inherent right to hold an official election whenever they want on whatever issue they want. Elections must be created by law. Advisory elections are not specifically authorized by law so they are not official elections. The existence of advisory elections is acknowledged in the election crime statutes, which indirectly recognize their existence by setting legal limits on their conduct. [See e.g. KSA 25-2413(e)(2)] Cities may call and hold advisory elections pursuant to their home rule power granted in the Kansas Constitution [Article 12, Section 5] and counties may call and hold advisory elections pursuant to home rule power granted in statutory law. [K.S.A. 19-101a]

Purpose

The advisory election must be for a public purpose and not an unauthorized delegation of legislative authority. [AGO 83-177] Generally, they are called by local governing bodies to elicit the opinions of voters to guide the governing body in consideration of a pending action.

Disorderly election conduct

The crime of disorderly election conduct, defined in K.S.A. 25-2413, includes:

(1) willfully conducting an advisory election,

(2) within 250 feet of the entrance of a polling place during the hours the polls are open on election day,

(3) UNLESS the advisory election is specifically authorized by law or home rule power AND conducted by the county election officer.

County Election Officer’s Role

County election officers are only empowered to conduct elections that are authorized by statute. Governing bodies that authorize an advisory election cannot require CEOs to conduct the election. A CEO has discretion in deciding whether to conduct an advisory election for the governing body.

Voter Registration Database

The conduct of advisory elections has implications for the statewide voter registration database. The CEO should conduct an advisory election in the test database rather than the production database; otherwise voting credit would be posted on voters’ official registration records.

Timed with Regular Election

Although an advisory election authorized by law or home rule power and conducted by the county election officer can be held at the same time as a regular election, separate polling places and ballots must be maintained and election judges and clerks may not distribute, collect or count ballots for an advisory election. [AGO 94-106]

County election officers who receive requests for advisory elections are advised to contact the Secretary of State for the latest information on the legal status of advisory elections and for procedures to use in conducting the elections.

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