(Updated 3:45 p.m.) House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, is just the latest legislator to add his name to a list in favor of repealing keno.
Sharkey announced his opposition to keno at the annual conference of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns in Cromwell on Wednesday. Sharkey told the group of local officials that keno revenue is no longer needed to sustain a balanced state budget, and since the electronic lottery-type game has yet to be implemented, repeal now is appropriate.
“Keno was a late addition to the budget last year as a way to help fill a budget hole, but now the revenue is not needed so I don’t see a reason to go forward with it, particularly when it hasn’t even started,” Sharkey said. “There was never really a groundswell of support for keno, it was simply a revenue option that was put on the table during budget negotiations at the time and was acceptable to the governor.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney have both called for repeal and Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Democrat from Waterford, introduced a bill earlier this month seeking to repeal the game, which is often referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week that keno wasn’t his idea and he didn’t have an opinion on whether it should be repealed.
“The legislature’s got a job to do,” Malloy said. “This was not done by me.”
Keno was brought to the state budget negotiation table after lawmakers killed Malloy’s plans to sell consumers’ electric bills to the highest bidder.
When it comes to keno, Malloy said his administration would do whatever it’s asked to do by the legislature.
“I will point out that keno is ubiquitous and is frequently run by lottery corporations in other states, but that’s a political decision,” Malloy said. “But I’m not a person who proposed keno.”
He said there seems to be agreement between the state and the tribes regarding revenue-sharing, but it still has to be formalized by at least one of the tribes.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, has said expanding gambling was not “ideal,” but it was necessary in order to balance the budget last year. Asked earlier this month if it would be something he would look to get rid of, Williams said the state needs a “reliable revenue stream.”
But on Wednesday, Williams said, “because of Connecticut’s improving fiscal outlook, we can now begin to have a conversation about budget options.”
“I think that it’s well known that I’ve have never been a supporter of Keno and I share many of the concerns first raised by Senator Stillman and now Speaker Sharkey,” Williams said. “I look forward to discussing this, as the session progresses, with the members of my caucus.”
McKinney applauded Sharkey’s pronouncement Wednesday.
“It is not surprising that the governor and speaker had a change of heart shortly after a political poll found that the vast majority of Connecticut residents oppose their plan,” McKinney said. “But, regardless of their motivation, it is in Connecticut’s best interest to stop keno.”
A Quinnipiac University poll in June found that 59 percent of voters oppose keno.
Lawmakers left it up to the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to establish the game. It’s unclear how much the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has spent on that effort. In September, it had planned to spend $5.4 million on game development.
Under the legislation, the Office of Policy and Management was in charge of negotiating with the two Indian tribes. As of Wednesday, it had a draft agreement awaiting the approval of the two tribes, which have a say over gambling in the state. Each tribe would each get a 12.5 percent cut of keno revenue, according to the state budget passed last June.
The two-year budget estimated that the state would raise about $31 million by the end of fiscal year 2015 in keno revenue, but the Office of Policy and Management said earlier this month that those estimates have dropped to $13.5 million based on the state’s ability to get the game up and running.