As two of four potential casino developers back out of their Kansas commitments, Olathe-based Butler National says it's still on track for Ford County.

As two of four potential casino developers back out of their Kansas commitments, Olathe-based Butler National says it's still on track for Ford County.

Clark Stewart, president of Butler National, said that despite other companies backing down, his company was moving forward.

"I believe the only real thing we have to say is we still plan to go forward," he said. "That's the key item out of all of this."

Kansas Lottery spokeswoman Sally Lunsford confirmed Stewart’s assurances. As of yet, she said, there were no foreseeable hiccups with Ford County's plans.

"Nothing has changed," Lunsford said. "We have certainly not heard anything that would lead us to the conclusion that they're pulling out."

The concern comes as Harrah's Entertainment Inc. announced earlier this week that it could not round up the funding for a $535 million casino in south-central Kansas. Earlier this year, Penn National also scrapped its plans to build a casino complex in the southeast gaming zone of Kansas, leaving Ford and Wyandotte counties as the only two zones of four remaining.

Financing questions

Both Harrah's and Penn National cited the rocky economy as key reasons for backing down from designing, building and managing a state-owned casino in their respective areas.

It's an issue that has raised plenty of eyebrows, and caused more than a little bit of coffee shop talk about how stable Dodge's project was — especially as larger corporations became gun shy.

Despite these concerns, Stewart was adamant that plans were progressing.

That's not to say there isn't some nail-biting.

"We think so," Stewart said about the likelihood that Butler's money was a lock. "But, you never know until they give you the money. We think we're just fine."

Addressing rumors that Butler was seeking investors in Dodge City outside those originally listed in its presentation to the state, Stewart said his company was courting any locals who may be interested.

However, he said it shouldn't be taken as a sign that their current funding wasn't enough or that they were facing pressures to get last-minute money lined up to fund the casino.

"We basically talked to some people," he said. "We said 'If you're interested, we'll talk to you.'

"It's not a question of really putting any pressure on anybody. We just thought that maybe there's a chance someone's really interested."

Assurances

Dodge City Mayor Kent Smoll said Wednesday morning that while there were always concerns when it came to large projects during rocky economic times, he was confident Butler would move forward.

"They've assured us all the way along that their financing is secure," he said. "I think there's always going to be a concern. But, it's been openly discussed between the city and Butler that we want a partner as we build this special events center, and financing is lined up on both sides."

Current plans have Butler breaking ground on its site west of town along U.S. Highway 50 sometime in December. From there, an interim casino would be up by late November, early December of next year. The final casino facility would be completed within the next two years.

However, before any of that can happen, Butler has to pass a background check, currently under way by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.

Commission spokesman Mike Deines said that while he couldn't release details on the background check, he did say there was nothing they had discovered that would lead them to think that Butler County would pull its casino plans out of the area.

Jeff Thorpe, president of Boot Hill Gaming and a local representative for Butler National, said the Sumner County and the southeast zone delays could actually prove to be a benefit for Dodge's casino.

"Ours will be open a good two years before any others," he said. "And so our light will burn just a little bit brighter."

The relative sizes of the casinos also play a role in financing, Thorpe said. Because Butler National only had to meet a lower financing threshold than the other three zones, it was easier to line up secure funds.

All in all, Thorpe said the Ford County casino was still on sure footing and he was confident it would be a positive for the area and the state.

"Boot Hill Casino is not going to cure Kansas' budget issues," he said. "But it's certainly going to help."


Reach Dodge City Daily Globe writer Mark Vierthaler at (620) 408-9908 or e-mail him at mark.vierthaler@dodgeglobe.com.