After a 13-hour filibuster, gambling proponents found the Senate votes they
needed early today to expand casino gaming across the state. Following
speeches that dragged late into Wednesday night, the Senate voted 21-19 –
the minimum needed for passage – just after midnight to allow casinos in
Sedgwick and three other counties and as many as 2,800 slot machines at
horse and dog racetracks, including Wichita Greyhound Park. Key swing votes
were cast by Sens. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield.
Schodorf has voted against gambling for her seven years as a lawmaker, but
said she switched because "I believe strongly, so strongly, in the people's
right to vote." Goodwin, a longtime opponent of gambling, told The Eagle on
Monday that she planned to vote against expanded gambling because of the
potential social costs. She was on the Senate floor and not available for
comment early today. Chamber of commerce interests in Goodwin's district
strongly supported the bill, which offers a chance that a casino could go to
Sumner County if Sedgwick County voters don't want one. Under the bill's
provisions, Sedgwick County voters must decide in a special election before
the end of the year. Sumner County voters have already said yes to a casino.
Regardless of whether the casino ends up in Sedgwick County or Sumner
County, both will share in the revenue. Gambling opponents, who had been
confident of victory early in the day, said they were dismayed. "What we've
done is given away the farm," said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who thinks
the state could get more from casino developers than the $25æmillion license
fee the bill specifies. She also pointed out that the bill had never been
put to a public hearing. "This is a poorly written bill, written behind
closed doors." In a political drama the Statehouse hasn't seen in decades,
gambling proponents tied up the floor for hours in a desperate fight to keep
a House-passed gambling bill alive. Opponents bided their time and waited
for the proponents to run out of things to say. Meanwhile, in the House,
Speaker Melvin Neufeld, a gambling opponent, sequestered himself in his
office, declining to appoint members of a conference committee – an action
that could have brought the extended Senate debate to a close.
That left House members sitting in their seats hour after hour, waiting for
either the senators to stop talking or their speaker to let them appoint
Longtime members said it was the longest filibuster they could remember –
exceeding a legendary six-hour speech on taxation that then-Rep. Kerry
Patrick delivered in 1988.
With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, the issue emerged as the
most controversial bill to cross legislators' desks this session.
It passed the House about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, sending it to the Senate.
Wednesday began with a series of parliamentary maneuvers as gambling
supporters tried to ward off attempts to kill the bill.
First, Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, teamed
up to control the Senate floor and force a vote to appoint a conference
committee -three senators and three House members who could negotiate a
final bill for both houses.
Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, spoke for 25 minutes against sending the
bill to conference. At the time, his fellow legislators thought it was
The motion eventually passed 22-18.
But immediately after that vote, Sens. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, and Wagle
teamed up to engineer a vote to kill the gambling bill.
That action launched the filibuster.
Across the Capitol rotunda, House members sat in their seats and stewed –
unable to do anything but unable to leave without giving potential advantage
to their opponents if the logjam were to break.
They read and played solitaire or listened to basketball games on their desk
By 10 p.m., tempers were starting to fray.
"This is dumb," said Rep. Dale Swenson, R-Wichita. "There's no reason for
the House to even be here. There's no strategy to this."