No one claimed credit for suggesting keno and no one claimed credit for repealing it, but the House Democratic caucus erupted in cheers Thursday when legislative leaders announced that it was not in the budget.
The bingo-style game that found its way into the state budget last year was on life support this week even though no one had officially pulled the plug.
The $13.5 million in revenue from the game was included in the 2015 budget currently being negotiated behind closed doors, and even though revenue has fallen $285 million short of projections, no one except the Connecticut Lottery Corporation supported the concept.
It’s unclear if lawmakers will simply not fund keno or if it would be repealed. The two Indian casinos entered into an agreement with state to receive about 25 percent of the revenues from keno. What is clear is that voters are not fond of the idea.
A Quinnipiac University poll in March found 65 percent of voters opposed the measure. In two previous polls, 59 percent and 70 percent of voters opposed it.
A handful of Senators declined to comment on the game.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey continued to play his cards close to his chest Thursday and declined to say whether keno would be part of the budget. Asked about the likelihood it would remain in the budget, Sharkey said, “not high.”
He said just like last year it’s “always that last $50 to $70 million” that’s the toughest to negotiate. However, he said he doesn’t believe that phenomenon is playing out this year. “I think we’re able to find the reductions we need from the appropriations to get us where we need to be,” Sharkey said.
He said he has been consistent throughout discussions that repealing keno is something they needed to do. “I honestly can’t tell you whether others of the parties were as adamant as I was, so that’s why it’s still somewhat in flux,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey joined a growing number of lawmakers in February to express his desire to get rid of the game.
Rep. Sean Williams, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said the general public looks at keno as a “gimmicky” way to balance a budget.
“I don’t object to the existence of keno, if that’s how people want to spend their money, God bless them,” he said. “But I don’t want to balance our state budget on a gimmicky, gambling initiative.”
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has consistently said he would sign a bill repealing the game if that’s what the legislature wanted. But he has never called for repeal outside of the legislative process.
Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, said at the end of the day the budget will help fund policies to support working people and the middle class. Ojakian declined to rule out keno Thursday night.