House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero wrote Budget Secretary Ben Barnes Wednesday to remind him that it has been 80 days since the legislature voted on a two-year budget that includes $30.8 million in Keno revenue.
It wasn’t as much a reminder as a statement about the alleged silence regarding the implementation of the bingo-type game that critics refer to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
“To date, there has been no communication from the administration to the legislature regarding the implementation of Keno,” Cafero wrote.
The issue of how many Keno terminals will be placed in restaurants, bars, and convenience stores throughout the state is still unknown. When the Finance Committee approved the revenue numbers before approving the budget it was estimated there would be around 675 terminals. The Connecticut Lottery Corporation, the quasi-public agency that has been put in charge of Keno’s implementation, has been silent about the project, according this Hartford Courant article.
But Frank Farricker, chairman of the Lottery Board of Directors, said that’s not exactly true. In a phone interview Thursday, he said there seems to be some confusion among members of the news media about what’s been happening. The board has met only once since the General Assembly approved the budget, he said.
Keno was discussed in open session at the board meeting and the gaming and finance subcommittee meetings, Farricker said.
According to the minutes of the June board of directors meeting, the subject of Keno falls under “executive session,” but Farricker said there was discussion about it during the open portion of the meeting.
“We have every intention of being open and transparent,” he added.
The agenda for the September 26 board meeting is still being formulated, but Keno likely will be part of the discussion.
How much planning and preparation will be required to implement a game like Keno?
“Keno has always been in the back of our minds,” Farricker said.
The General Assembly used Keno to plug a last-minute hole in the state budget before they passed it in June. The two-year budget estimates that the state will raise $3.8 million in revenue this fiscal year from Keno. In the following fiscal year it relies upon $27 million in Keno revenue.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said Wednesday that staff from the governor’s office told him they weren’t the ones to put Keno on the table. However, he said he still doesn’t know exactly who proposed it.
There were a handful of Democratic legislative leaders in the room with the governor’s staff this year negotiating the budget, which the General Assembly approved in June. Several Democratic leaders opposed the idea when former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell suggested it a few years ago.
“From the very beginning, the Keno proposal lacked transparency and circumvented the legislative process,” Cafero said. “The controversy surrounding Keno never had a chance to come to light because there was never a public hearing to debate the pros and cons of the plan.”
Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said she felt like her organization was “thrown under the bus” by the Keno proposal, which didn’t come to light until the final days of the legislative session as lawmakers looked to close a budget gap.
“You just need to know our concerns are that nobody’s really looked at the social costs,” Drexler told lawmakers in June.
An additional $400,000 was added to the budget after it was passed to address the issue of problem gambling.
But unlike other issues that cut across party lines, Dargan said gambling is not a partisan issue. He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are philosophically opposed to increasing opportunities to gamble.
The implementation of Keno also will depend largely on the cooperation of the two Indian casinos. Each tribe will get a 12.5 percent cut of the gross Keno revenue, but neither the Mohegan nor the Mashantucket Pequot tribe have inked a formal deal with the state, according to Dargan. Negotiations with the tribes will be handled by the governor’s Office of Policy and Management, according to the budget language.
Since the budget passed, Dargan said he hasn’t heard from Connecticut Lottery officials, who he meets with on a regular basis because his legislative committee oversees it. He said Wednesday that Keno wasn’t something Lottery officials were planning on implementing at the beginning of the year, so it will take some time for them to get up to speed.
Cafero remains skeptical that Keno will be implemented at all. But if it is implemented, he predicted that “a small group of men and women will emerge from a room one day in the near future and impose a new law that greatly expands gambling in this state. They will determine who will host Keno, where it will happen, hours of operation, taxes, number of locations, impact on the Indian gaming compact, and all other aspects . . . with zero input from the public.”
In response to the issues raised by Cafero and others, Malloy said Wednesday that, “It’s been authorized by the legislature and the lottery folks are working on it. Whatever they are doing they need to do in an honest and transparent way and they need to keep the public informed.”