House Republican leader Larry Cafero is seeking answers on the state’s plans for legalizing keno gambling, which is being discussed behind closed doors.
Cafero is seeking answers from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, regarding negotiations with two Indian tribes that operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in southeastern Connecticut. The state budget calls for the tribes to each receive 12.5 percent of the state’s future keno revenues that would be generated under a plan that could lead to as many as 1,000 keno outlets next year in bars, restaurants, taverns, and convenience stores.
“It has been 80 days since the legislature voted on and passed the two-year state budget, which includes $30.8 million in tax revenue from keno,” Cafero wrote to Barnes. “To date, there has been no communication from the administration to the legislature regarding the implementation of keno.”
Legislators and the general public have been kept in the dark as the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation has been discussing the creation of the game behind closed doors.
In a related matter, Malloy wrote a letter this week to the U.S. Department of the Interior secretary, expressing “grave concern” about potential changes to the federal rules that would make it easier for groups to be recognized as Indian tribes. If approved, the changes could “be used as leverage to compel the approval of additional mega-casinos in our state,” Malloy said.
Keno has been controversial for years, and one of the questions is whether the two Indian tribes that operate casinos would sue the state over the creation of keno. The question is whether keno is a lottery game, which would give the state authority to run the new game, or a casino game, which would be the purview of the tribes.
The Malloy administration had preliminary talks with the tribes, leading to the provision in the state budget that allows for negotiations that would award 12.5 percent of the state’s keno earnings to the tribes in returning for allowing the state to operate keno.
In response to Cafero on the tribes, Barnes wrote, “Those negotiations have not progressed to a point where an update to the General Assembly would be either informative or appropriate. The authority to plan and implement Keno games is granted by the same statute to the Connecticut Lottery Corporation. Given that the implementation of Keno must follow the tribal agreements, I do not expect that their efforts have passed a very preliminary stage.’’
A recent lottery board meeting in Rocky Hill was closed for a keno discussion in executive session, and the board members did not discuss the matter when the meeting was reopened to the public. The lottery president and chief executive officer, Anne M. Noble, declined to talk after the meeting ended, and she walked away from a Courant reporter when asked about the status of keno.
On Tuesday, Noble – the former deputy legal counsel under Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell before joining the lottery – did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Diane Patterson, the lottery’s vice president of sales and marketing, sent an email that stated, “At this point what I can share with you is that development and implementation of new lottery games typically requires at minimum, 6-12 months. This is true for Keno. The statute also requires an agreement between the State and tribal authorities. At this time, it is premature for the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to respond further.’’
Cafero has complained about a lack of transparency, which he says contradicts a stated hallmark of the Malloy administration.
”From the very beginning, the keno proposal lacked transparency and circumvented the legislative process,” Cafero wrote to Barnes. “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. In particular, residents and lawmakers have expressed concerns about 1) the impact on low-income families; 2) the achievability of the projected tax revenue; and 3) the possibility of being sued by the Mohegan and Pequot tribes.”
Rep. Stephen Dargan, the longtime co-chairman of the legislative committee that oversees gambling, said he spoke with a representative of a tribe on Wednesday.
“The tribe said, ‘We have agreed to that 12.5 percent,’ ” Dargan, a West Haven Democrat, told Capitol Watch. “Have we signed anything? No. … On the legality of the issue, that makes it a lot easier.”
Dargan added that he was not sure how widespread that the keno terminals will be and how fast they can be installed.
“If you’re going to put it in the West Haven Elks Club, then you’re going to have to wire the place,” Dargan said. “It will take a while. … Nobody knows how it will be implemented.”