August 19, 2013

CT preps for 1,000 Keno locations starting Jan. 1

Photo | Pablo Robles
Photo | Pablo Robles
Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, is negotiating with the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to put warning signs at the planned 1,000 Keno vendors around the state

Connecticut plans to have 1,000 Keno vendors starting in January, as the state looks to add $31 million in gambling revenue to its budget, sources say.

"They are going to move quickly. They are doing a lot of preparation work," said Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

Since the General Assembly passed Keno legislation in June, the program's administrator — the Connecticut Lottery Corp. — has been tight-lipped on progress of implementing the game throughout the state. The lottery's board, and legislative and games committee each met in June and discussed Keno in closed-door executive sessions, and lottery spokeswoman Linda Tarnowski said all Keno decisions are preliminary.

However, Drexler said the lottery already has been in touch with several current ticket and scratch game vendors about adding Keno to their operations, targeting January for the game to start.

The plan would be to add Keno to 400 existing lottery vendors like convenience stores, and bring in 600 new businesses for Keno, mostly restaurants and bars, said Drexler, who has met with lottery officials about putting warning signs about gambling addiction at Keno locations.

Connecticut wants to move quickly on Keno because the game was added to fill a hole in its coffers. The state budget calls on Keno to contribute $3.8 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, and $27 million in the following fiscal year.

"It is built on a ramp up of the number of vendors," said Thomas Fiore, revenue forecaster for the budget division of the state Office of Policy & Management.

Keno is a lottery game similar to bingo where players preselect numbers, usually one to 80, and then win based on how many numbers they hit. Keno locations will have display screens where a centralized system from the lottery sends the winning numbers. Keno games are played every three to five minutes.

Surrounding states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island already have Keno. Connecticut resisted the game for years. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell last proposed it in 2010.

This year, however, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislative leaders were crafting the state budget in a closed-door meeting, they added Keno in order to shore up budget deficits. The measure never got a public hearing and was passed as part of the budget bill, stirring backlash from those who oppose additional gambling options in Connecticut.

"They actually put it in the budget bill at the 11th hour," Drexler said.

One reason Keno never caught on previously in Connecticut is the state's agreements with the Native American tribes that run Foxwoods Resorts Casino and Mohegan Sun casino.

That agreement gives the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans the exclusive right to run gambling establishments in the state, in exchange for giving the state 25 percent of their slots revenues. Those slots contributions total $6.5 billion since 1992.

To get the tribes to agree to Keno, Connecticut promised them each 12.5 percent of the state's Keno revenues. Once the program gets rolling in its second year, that should equate to roughly $4.5 million annually.

"I don't think they expect Keno revenue will be anywhere near slot revenues," said Joseph Smith, spokesman for the Mohegan Tribe.

The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling still opposes having Keno in the state, Drexler said. The game largely will be played in restaurants and bars where children under 18 can sit, even though they can't play directly.

"This brings a game closer to youth and younger adults," Drexler said. "Kids do fill out the slips and hand them to their parents."

The council wants signs on every table saying Keno is not legal for children under 18. Drexler is pushing for additional signage directing people to a hotline for problems with gambling.

"Keno and slot machines are the two most addictive games for developing a problem," Drexler said.

Members of the Connecticut Restaurant Association were split on adding Keno to their operations when Rell proposed it in 2010, although the trade group hasn't brought up the issue since it passed in June.

Potential vendors will have to make decisions soon since the Connecticut Lottery Corp. is planning on deploying the game in less than five months.

"I don't think it is going to be delayed," Drexler said.

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