Lawmakers Question Keno As Revenues Soar
Keno, the bingo-like game of chance, was adopted by the General Assembly last June as a new revenue stream. At the time, many lawmakers were not happy about expanding gambling in the state.
However, they bit their lips in order to find the revenue they thought they needed to balance the budget.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers would like to see the state Lottery Corporation scrap its Keno plans since it’s estimated the game will only bring in half of what was initially estimated.
The two-year budget estimated that the state would raise about $31 million by the end of fiscal year 2015, but the Office of Policy and Management said Monday those estimates have dropped to $13.5 million based on the state’s ability to get the game up and running.
The state is close to inking a revenue-sharing deal with the two Indian tribes. Each tribe would each get a 12.5 percent cut of the keno revenues.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is also running for governor, said Monday that he plans to introduce legislation to repeal keno.
“I see no need for the state to go forward with this,” McKinney said.
He said if anything the drop over the past few years in slot revenue should show lawmakers that “gambling is not a reliable, stable form of revenue or economic development.”
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, who co-chairs the Public Safety Committee that oversees gambling regulations in the state, said that since the game hasn’t started there’s little he’s able to say. He said Connecticut Lottery officials are expected to brief some lawmakers on their progress Tuesday morning.
Lottery officials said they were unable to move forward with the game until the state struck a deal with the two tribes. The Lottery Board approved a resolution in September that allowed it to spend $5.4 million on game development.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said that gambling expansion was not “ideal,” but it was necessary in order to balance the budget last year.
Asked if it would be something he would look to get rid of, Williams said the state needs a “reliable revenue stream.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who was the first in August to remind the administration that it had included Keno in the budget, said it seemed to him like the administration had no intention of moving forward with keno.
He said the flurry of activity around keno that he prompted when he sent a letter to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes has since died down.
But the Office of Policy and Management confirmed Monday that it was close to reaching a deal with the two Indian casinos that would permit the state lottery to move forward with its plans to implement keno in about 1,000 locations.
Now that the state has excess revenues, Cafero said he believes the administration is getting pressure from inside its own party to “press the pause button” on keno.
It’s unclear how much of an impact keno could have on the electorate, but it’s widely unpopular with voters according to a 2010 Quinnipiac University poll.
A March 2010 Quinnipiac University poll of Connecticut voters found 70 percent opposed the idea of allowing keno gambling in restaurants, bars, and convenience stores.