Tuesday, June 4, 2013

NO FANTASY: Keno a good bet for Connecticut

As the gambling writer for the New Haven Register, during the past 15 years, with an economy that has produced more lows than highs, I’ve written several columns stating that some day the expansion of gambling in Connecticut was inevitable with the high volume of revenue at stake.
Maybe it would mean tweaking the current revenue deal with the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos to allow for the expansion of video slot machines in the state. Maybe it would be offering online sports betting or even a state-run Keno operation.
You’re living in a fantasy world local and state gambling officials and politicians would tell me.
I remember several scheduled 10-minute one-on-one interviews with then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal over the years that would turn into 30 and 45 minute discussions about how I thought expansion of gambling made sense and how he was against that and believed it would never happen.
Fantasy is suddenly becoming reality.
Last winter the state gave approval for Sportech Inc., which operates Connecticut Off-Track betting, to operate an online horseracing operation, which is expected to launch soon. Sure, it’s not a full blown online sports wagering operation with betting on football, baseball, basketball, and soccer games, similar to what Sportech operates in Europe. But online horse wagering is certainly an online sports betting operation.
And oh yeah, online horse wagering is legal.
Late Monday night, the state Legislature approved a two-year state budget that includes a state-run Keno operation. Massachusetts is a good example of why a Keno operation is more than just a quick-fix revenue item for our state.
I’ve lived in Connecticut for nearly 30 years but I was born and raised in Adams, Mass. Most of my family still lives in Massachusetts including my sister and her family who have lived on Cape Cod for nearly 30 years.
One of the fringe benefits of visiting family in Massachusetts is being able to bet a buck or two on Keno games at restaurants or bars.
One reason I always suggested a state-run Keno operation would be good for Connecticut is its popularity I experienced in Massachusetts. The revenue numbers are also impressive.
Keno was made legal in Massachusetts in 1993, a year after Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard opened.
Keno involves selecting 1-12 numbers a game for a $1 minimum bet with a computer randomly selecting 20 winning numbers from a field of 80 numbers. The results are displayed at monitors throughout the hosting venue.
The more numbers you play the more chances you have to win and bigger amounts can be won (although your odds increase dramatically with the more numbers you play). In Massachusetts, if you play 12 numbers and all 12 numbers appear within the 20 that are drawn, you win a million dollars. But you can play any amount of numbers, even 1 or two numbers (play one number for a $1 and you can win $2.50 if it is drawn).
But here are the numbers that count.
In fiscal year 2012, according to the state’s official web site wwwmass.gov, the Massachusetts Lottery produced $4.74 billion in revenue. The biggest contributor was instant games, which accounted for 68.6 percent ($3.251 billion) of that total revenue.
The second highest contributor of the total revenue, a little less than 20 percent, was Keno with $790.4 million of revenue.
Keno revenue might not get near $790 million Connecticut. But I think $450 million or $500 million is certainly possible.
The interesting thing is with online horse wagering and Keno soon to be available in Connecticut, can a state-run video slot machine operation be far behind? With casinos approved for Massachusetts and being discussed in Maine and New Hampshire, would the state consider allowing a third casino in Connecticut, likely privately owned and not on the site of sovereign land?
More fantasy? Maybe, maybe not.
FYI: Here is the link to the official Massachusetts press release breaking down the lottery revenue for fiscal year 2012 - http://1.usa.gov/PvZm81


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