In the end, Butler National Service Corp. convinced the state that it could deliver on its promises.

  The Kansas Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board tapped the Olathe-based company on Friday to develop and manage Ford County's state-owned casino. The 5-2 vote moves Butler one step closer to

building an $87.5 million complex with a hotel and other amenities on the western outskirts of Dodge City, near U.S. Highway 50.


   In the end, Butler National Service Corp. convinced the state that it could deliver on its promises.
  The Kansas Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board tapped the Olathe-based company on Friday to develop and manage Ford County's state-owned casino. The 5-2 vote moves Butler one step closer to
building an $87.5 million complex with a hotel and other amenities on the western outskirts of Dodge City, near U.S. Highway 50.
  Butler President Clark Stewart said it was clear that the board had done its homework.
  "I believe they paid attention and picked the best of the
candidates," he said.
   The company has formed an alliance with the local nonprofit organization Boot Hill Gaming on its Western-themed casino.
   Butler's road to success wasn't easy. The company faced a major challenge from the Wichita-based company Dodge City Resort and Gaming, which had proposed a similar complex on the northeastern edge of the city.
  Both companies also faced repeated questions about their ability to finance their proposals.
  Dodge City Resort and Gaming President Steve Joseph said he was disappointed in the board's decision, but he was not unhappy with the selection process.
   "We had an opportunity to present our case, and they liked the other side better," he said. "I think the two cases -- the two proposals -- were very, very different. Even though they were going to produce the same amount of revenue, they were very different
proposals. And they chose the high-end proposal versus our more economical proposal."

A question of finances
     The review board was expected to choose a developer last week, then
postponed its decision until Friday due to questions about the
developers' financial backing and worries about the national economy.
    Butler and Dodge City Resort and Gaming were each given an extra week
to provide additional evidence that they had enough money to make
their projects work.
  On Friday, Stewart told the board that the company
had an additional $20 million commitment from the Topeka-based Kaw Valley Bank, plus a $45 million pledge for the second phase of the project from the global financial services firm Merrill Lynch.
  "Basically, they're saying that they have enough confidence in the management of this group and the design of the project that they're willing to issue a highly confident letter to that effect," he said.
     Stewart said that Kaw Valley and Merrill Lynch will have a 35
percent equity stake in the project, and both investors are
comfortable with that position. He added that those investors'
commitments will give Butler a $10 million cushion to complete the
first and second phases of its project.
  Joseph said that his company, Dodge City Resort and Gaming,
had received an additional financial commitment from Equity Bank of Wichita and Kansas City, which had previously loaned the company $6.4 million. But he added that his company had enough money to finance its casino without outside help.
    "We don't need financing from a bank, as I told you over and over," he said. "We can do this without financing. We are in the enviable position that we will have banks knocking on our door to lend
us money."
   After a 45-minute closed session to review the developers' confidential financial information, the board was ready to vote.
   Board member Jackie Vietti said she favored Butler in part because
it had proven it had the necessary financial backing. She also cited the company's plans to put some of its gaming revenues into a special fund to help western Kansas tourist attractions.
   "There's documented evidence of the financing ability, and we specifically requested that," she said. "And beyond that, the Mariah Fund appears to benefit a much broader region than only the city of
Dodge or the county of Ford."
   But not everyone was convinced that Butler was the best choice.
   Board member Jim Bergfalk said he thought that Dodge City Resort
and Gaming had a better chance of completing its project successfully.
    "I felt that it was the right size project," he said, "And I questioned the possibility whether or not the Butler proposal — the Boot Hill proposal — was going to be overbuilt."
    Board Chairman Matt All said he also preferred Dodge City Resort and
Gaming's conservative approach to financing the project.

Moving ahead
    Ford County officials hailed the decision, saying it gave them a green
light to move ahead with planning for the casino -- and for the proposed special events center, which is expected to be located near the casino.
   "It's a good thing that we started preliminary discussions quite some time ago," said Ford County Commission Chairman Kim Goodnight.
    "It's allowed us to be able to hit the ground running, and we're very excited about it."
    County Administrator Ed Elam said that local officials are looking forward to working with Butler on tackling various problems,
such as providing roads and water service for the casino.
    "There's going to be some challenges for all of us in a very short time," he said.

Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or e-mail him at
eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com