Amid whoops, hollers and applause, state and local officials broke ground Monday for a resort-style casino on the western outskirts of Dodge City.

    "Everybody said it'd be a cold day in hell when Dodge City finally got a casino," said Boot Hill Gaming President Jeff Thorpe, drawing shouts of "Yee-haw!" from the audience. "Well, we're here."


     Amid whoops, hollers and applause, state and local officials broke ground Monday for a resort-style casino on the western outskirts of Dodge City.
    "Everybody said it'd be a cold day in hell when Dodge City finally got a casino," said Boot Hill Gaming President Jeff Thorpe, drawing shouts of "Yee-haw!" from the audience. "Well, we're here."
    Boot Hill Gaming, which has lobbied lawmakers to authorize expanded gaming in Dodge City for several years, has teamed up with the Olathe-based Butler National Service Corp. on the casino.
    The groundbreaking ceremony marked the next phase in a project that began in September, when the state selected Butler to develop and manage a state-owned casino in Dodge. The company passed a state-run background check earlier this month, clearing the way to begin work on the $87.5 million project.
    The first phase is expected to open within a year, and the second phase is supposed to be completed 38 months after that.
    Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who attended the ceremony along with other lawmakers, said the project met the definition of successful economic development.
    "It is government working with the private sector and local leadership to try and move things forward," she said. "You all now set the stage."
    The groundbreaking was a rare piece of good news for the state, which has seen developers in the other three gaming zones pull the plug on their proposals in recent weeks. The developers cited either national economic woes or the threat of competition from casinos in neighboring states as the reason for withdrawing.
    The state has already reopened the bidding process in Cherokee County and will seek new bids for Sumner and Wyandotte counties starting Jan. 1.
    Sebelius said she believed that casinos would eventually open in the other zones, despite the economic turmoil.
    "I think it may be delayed by a year, but I'm still confident that this is an important move for Kansas to have destination resorts," she said. "To have an opportunity to strengthen our agribusiness with horse and dog racing and to have entertainment centers that can attract conventions and attract tourism dollars."
    The Ford County casino complex, which will include a hotel and other attractions as well as the casino itself, is expected to generate between $40 million and $60 million in revenues per year. The state will receive at least 22 percent of annual gaming revenues, and 2 percent will be earmarked for a fund to help problem gamblers.
    Dodge City and Ford County will each receive 1.5 percent, and the developer and manager will keep the rest.
    The percentages would increase if the complex meets certain revenue goals.
    Ford County administrator Ed Elam said that county officials are looking forward to having the casino up and running.
    "It's going to be an additional revenue source, not only from the gaming side but hopefully, additional businesses and expansion within the community," he said.
    Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, predicted that the casino would draw visitors from western Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.
    "That's why I've been supportive of it for a long time," he said. "I really think that not only will it be beneficial to Dodge City, but it'll be beneficial for the entire state."
    Butler President and CEO Clark Stewart also hailed the casino as a shot in the arm for the region's economic development.
    "This is not a gaming operation or a gambling operation," he said. "This is really an economic development project for all of western Kansas and for the state."

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