Despite widespread political support for repealing keno this year, the chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors said Tuesday he’s still optimistic lawmakers will choose to allow the corporation to implement the game.
“Absolutely not,” Frank Farricker said when asked if keno was bound for repeal this year. “I think that many people are discovering or remembering or referring back to the fact that this is a lottery game and this is something that is positive for raising revenue for the state.”
Keno was added to last year’s budget as a revenue generator late in the session and to the surprise of many lawmakers. It was passed without the benefit of a public hearing. This year, the state has an estimated $504 million surplus and lawmakers are considering a bill to scrap the state’s plan to implement keno.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey favors repealing the game, Sen. President Donald Williams has said he welcomes the conversation, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has indicated he would sign such a repeal if it were passed.
Farricker testified at a public hearing Tuesday before the Public Safety Committee, which is considering a repeal bill. He told lawmakers that the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has already spent about $50,000 preparing for the game and believed it was well-situated to implement it.
“I believe that we have keno positioned in a responsible way,” he said. “. . . Keno is in an excellent position for launch.”
Many lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee were critical of the game and the prospect of its implementation in Connecticut. Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, called keno’s legalization in last year’s budget “the most distasteful rat” he had ever voted for.
“We’re finally having a public hearing and debate about repealing it because the people of Connecticut have told their legislators that they don’t like what we did and they don’t want to see Connecticut engage in a significant and dangerous expansion of state-sponsored gambling,” Mikutel said.
However, Farricker said that keno is not a new consideration for the Connecticut Lottery Corporation. He said the issue came up at his first meeting as chairman of the board in 2011 and has been keeping tabs on the game for much longer. Since 2011, Farricker said the Malloy administration requested that the lottery corporation estimate the revenue impact of the legalization of keno “at least three or four times.”
During his testimony, Farricker sought to align keno with other types of lottery games and resisted the idea presented by lawmakers that the bingo-like game’s video elements will appeal to the state’s children and young people.
“Keno is a lottery game . . . It’s the exact same experience of playing the lottery that has existed since the 70s,” he said.
Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, disagreed. He said he has been in restaurants in states where keno is legal and watched the game’s video displays.
“You have a multicolor, dancing ball that is visually queued to capture the attention of vendors in your restaurant. It is not a static experience,” he said. “You’ve got young children, all of the sudden in the middle of a meal, being entranced by a colorful screen.”
Rep. Daniel Rovero, D-Dayville, said he had never seen children captivated by keno in other states. He said that gambling is already present in Connecticut and represents income for the state.
“I don’t like gambling . . . but I might be the only friend you have sitting here,” he told Farricker. “Gambling is already here and unless somebody can prove to me how it’s going to make a bad situation worse, I’ve got to say, I’m not against putting keno into restaurants.”