Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission Votes Unanimously To Validate Ruffin Casino Proposal

On July 13, it was reported that the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission voted unanimously to award the state’s only license to Phil Ruffin’s group to officially open the historic horse racing casino, called Golden Circle, at Wichita Greyhound Park, giving the Wichita-born-and-raised casino mogul a chance to open a casino directly where Wichita Greyhound Park once stood, which officially closed in 2007. In addition, with this license, the proposed casino is allowed to operate 1,000 historical horse racing (HHR) machines.

Reopening the door:

In 2022, the Kansas Legislature passed legislation to legalize sports wagering, which changed things for the proposed casino. This bill, now law, also permitted the state gaming commission to grant one license to operate 1,000 HHR machines in Sedgwick County, which further led to three groups submitting bids, with Treadwell’s group giving up before the three-day process hearing that ended on July 13.

As for a group other than Ruffin’s, led by Wichita developer George Laham and Boyd Gaming Inc., it was disqualified from the license race during the first day of hearings after the KRGC enacted a policy barring any entity from operating the HHR gambling and gaming facility in the same gaming zone. Moreover, disqualification is l phl63 ogical because Boyd Gaming is the owner of the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane.

Furthermore, the Golden Circle casino proposal was well received, as it has received letters of support from Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner, Kansas House Speaker and Wichita Republican Dan Hawkins, former Wichita City Council member Sharon Fearey, Park City’s city council, former Sedgwick County Sheriff Mike Hill and Paul Treadwell, who wanted a license to add machines at Wichita’s Towne West Square, but recently withdrew from the race without explanation.

On that note, Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission Chairman David Moses, commented on the board’s unanimous vote to validate the license, saying: “With the presentations, with the information they provided during the application process as well as during those three days of hearings overwhelmingly convinced us they had the wherewithal, economics, the ability and the vision to be successful with a HHR casino.”

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Wichita Greyhound Park renovation plans:

According to Ruffin’s plan, he will invest $128 million in redeveloping the park to become a three-story casino. The refurbishment will involve, in addition to entertainment and hotel options, the latest, huge country music bar Gilley’s Dance Hall and Saloon, developed after the popular Texas honky-tonk club included in the hit film “Urban Cowboy,” with John Travolta as the main actor. It is projected that the renovations will be done and the casino will officially open in 14 months.

In this regard, Phil Ruffin Jr., a Wichita resident who will be named Golden Circle’s general manager when it officially opens, said: “It’s an iconic building. It’s been there since 1989. There’s a lot of space in there. There’s a lot to do. 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 ways 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.”

Additionally, commenting on the license award, he said: “We are ecstatic with the news. We’ve been working to try to renovate and reopen Wichita Greyhound Park.” 

But when asked to comment on the years his family spent fighting for the casino, he emotionally said: “Jimmy Valvano said, ‘Don’t ever give up‘. Never give up. We never gave up. We got it done.”

Ruffin Holding representative Jason Watkins added: “A lot of effort by Mr. (Phil) Runn over the years to get that park back open ins some capacity. So, today is just a huge day for the organization and especially for Mr. Ruffin.”

The new casino will also create new employment opportunities, with Ruffin Companies saying: “The project would create about 300 construction jobs and nearly another 300 permanent jobs at the facility. The casino would consist of three floors of entertainment, wagering on horse racing via simulcast from premier tracks, a nightclub and a hotel with more than 100 rooms.” 

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Also, when asked to comment on the raising of concerns and the questions of whether greyhound racing will return to the upcoming casino, Ruffin Jr. said: “Golden Circle does not plan to bring back greyhound racing.”

As soon as the proposed casino opens, Ruffin also has one more plan in mind, which is to construct a 110-bed hotel.

Residents are against HHR machines:

However, the casino will include the 1,000 HHR machines as mentioned above, which are set up so players may replay or watch the outcome of the races they’ve placed a bet on if they decide, that were refused by Sedgwick County voters several months before Ruffin decided to close the greyhound park. Additionally, these machines randomly chose races from a database containing thousands of races.

Furthermore, in August 2007, the voting was taken between Sedgwick County residents to decide whether electronic gaming machines would be allowed at the former greyhound park, resulting in a rejection by just under 250 votes. Additionally, there was a separate vote to permit a casino in Sedgwick County, which was also rejected by 56% of voters. However, a 2014 law blocked voters from taking up the issue again until 2032.

In this regard, Park City Mayor John Lehnherr talked about how his community will feel the effect of the upcoming new casino, saying: “We have the interstate that comes through with four exits and that’s a lot of people from other areas stopping to spend some of their money. And we would like to have as much opportunity for them to stop and leave their money here.”