House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Thursday that Keno will “likely” be legalized as a revenue item under the state budget currently under negotiation.
Keno is a bingo-type game that is currently illegal in most of Connecticut, but legal throughout most of the region.
Sharkey said the proposal being negotiated would place the game under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Lottery, but he said legislative leaders were reaching out through the governor’s office to ensure that the state’s Native American tribes, which run Connecticut’s two casinos, were on board with the idea.
“I think it’s likely,” Sharkey said. “There was a lot of conversation about it and I think folks felt that it was a good thing to consider, considering that all our surrounding states have it. We obviously want to make sure we’re good with our friends on the reservations.”
Chuck Bunnell, the chief of staff for the Mohegans, said the tribe has indicated that it would be willing to negotiate something with the state. He said Mohegan Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration that he would make himself available for negotiations, if this was something the state was seriously considering.
Keno is offered at both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan casinos, but the Keno board at the Mohegan Sun has been temporarily suspended while it evaluates newer products. In Connecticut the tribes, have exclusive rights to casino games under a compact it negotiated with the state more than 20 years ago.
If the tribe is giving up “exclusivity” to the game by allowing the state to offer some form of Keno then it’s going to have to be a mutually beneficial agreement, Bunnell said.
“We want to be helpful,” Bunnell said.
A 2010 Office of Legislative Research report found there’s disagreement about whether Keno is a lottery game that would not violate the state’s agreement with the two Indian casinos, or if it would require the state to reopen its agreement with the tribes. A 2009 opinion by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal offered little clarity on the issue.
“A court might conclude that the parties never contemplated the state operating casino games, including Keno, within the state while receiving 25 percent of slot machine revenue from the Tribal casinos,” Blumenthal wrote. “Similarly, the state could contend that Keno is not a ‘commercial casino game,’ but a court might disagree because clearly some types of Keno are prevalent in casinos, including the tribal casinos in Connecticut (June 1, 2009).”
Former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed introducing Keno to the state back in 2009 as a way to help balance that state budget, but the measure never gained enough public support.
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.
Back in 2009, top Democratic lawmakers were lukewarm to the idea of Keno.
According to the Courant, Sen. President Donald Williams called the game “a ‘shaky proposition’ and a ‘misery tax’ on people who can ill afford to play.”
“Correct, Sen. Williams does not like Keno. However, he was not willing to make deep cuts to education or shred the safety net,” Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Williams, said Thursday.
Those close to budget negotiations say they need raise another $30 million to balance the two-year $43.8 billion budget.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said gambling is not a partisan issue, but there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are philosophically opposed to increasing opportunities to gamble.