Voters Give OK for Slot Machines at The Woodlands

Wyandotte County, Kan., voters on June 26 approved a measure that will allow The Woodlands racetrack to install slot machines.

In gambling terms, The Woodlands is all in.

The Kansas City, Kan., racetrack had all its chips riding on a June 26 Wyandotte County special election that would allow it to add slot machines. The measure won with 82% of the vote, according to published reports.

The once-bankrupt track is looking at unprecedented heights for its horse and dog racing purses. With slots, the track eventually is looking at 60 days of racing with ultimately more than $200,000 a day in purses, Woodlands general manager Jayme LaRocca said. Greyhound purses could reach $1,000 per point; dogs are paid by points assigned a monetary value.

“It would be a tremendous boost to both industries,” said LaRocca, a former jockey who has been at The Woodlands as a steward or manager since 1990.

The Woodlands will offer a 25-day Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet this year from Sept. 23-Oct. 27 with $50,000 a day in purses.

The Woodlands opened in the fall of 1989 as a dual horse and dog racing facility. It flopped and wound up in bankruptcy, where it was bought by the late Bill Grace and is now owned by his children. Grace said the track’s long-term health depended on getting slots. Legislation passed this spring allowed six Kansas counties to have votes on whether to add casino-style gambling.

“This very likely could have been the last year,” LaRocca said. “In recent years, it has cost ownership $2 million a year, and I don’t know how much longer that would continue. We’ve been very, very fortunate that they’ve kept it going.”

The county votes will decide whether three tracks--The Woodlands, plus the Wichita and currently closed Camptown dog tracks--can add slots. There also are votes to allow four publicly-owned but privately-run destination casinos; Wyandotte County, where Kansas City is located, approved the destination casino measure by more than an 80% margin in the June 26 election.

Under the legislation, 7% of the tracks’ slots revenue goes to horse purses and 7% to dog purses. Even though the Wichita and Camptown tracks only race dogs, 7% of their revenues will go to horse purses. The Woodlands would install 800 machines immediately and could apply for 600 more in a year.

The major selling point was that with casinos across the border in Kansas City, Mo., the area already is spending money on casino gambling but receiving none of the revenue. Wyandotte County will receive an estimated $7 million in annual revenue.

In a non-binding 1996 vote, 82% of Wyandotte voters said they supported adding casino wagering.