Keno: The Conversation That Never Happened

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David Collins, photographed by Chion Wolf

David Collins, photographed by Chion Wolf

Mary Drexler is executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.  When Connecticut considers a big move like adding keno to the gambling menu, it’s her job to attend all the public hearings and committee meetings at which the change is discussed
It’s her job to offer testimony on the bill and to recruit other experts who can offer opinion on the impact of increased gaming.
This time, she didn’t do any of that.
She couldn’t, because there were no public hearings or committee meetings. State-sponsored Keno was legalized in Connecticut by, essentially, a back room deal.
“I found out about it the Friday before the vote on Monday. The legislators who told me about it said it came up as an idea on that Thursday or Friday before the Monday  vote,” she said on The Colin McEnroe Show this week. 
Why was keno added?
To close a hole in the budget created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s promise of no new taxes, his deputy budget chief Karen Buffkin said on the same show. The budget passed by the legislature shows keno coughing up $30 milllion in fiscal year 2015, the second year of the two-year budget.
I asked Buffkin how many keno machines there would be and how many sites would host keno games and what kinds of establishments would be allowed to offer keno.
She said all those things were “as yet to be determined.”  Of course. How could any of that be figured out during a process in which 72 hours elapsed between the first glimmering of the idea and its passage within the overall budget? To figure those things out you’d have to have …public hearings and committee meetings.
But wait a sec. If they don’t know how many machines or locations they’ll have — and whether they’ll be located in Chuck E. Cheese or the Sidetrack Tap — how do they know they’ll get $30 million in revenue?
Buffkin said she’s not the one who came up with that number, but “I think it’s based on the experience in terms of the states that surround us and a number of factors including and what we’ve accrued when we’ve introduced a new lottery game.”

Keno City

New London Day columnist David Collins is not buying the idea that keno just popped into somebody’s mind on the Thursday before the Monday budget vote.  In fact, the two Native American tribes running gaming operations in the state had to sign off on the deal. For that to happen, the state had to promise them a cut — which turns out to be 12.5 percent percent.  That’s not a short conversation. . This is from his column:
The fact that the state has been secretly negotiating a keno deal with the tribes, cutting them in for a generous 12.5 percent take of the winnings, was obvious from the reactions from both tribes to the keno news, which took most others completely by surprise.
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler compared the new keno pact to the existing gaming compact with the tribe.
“Because of this successful partnership with the State and the collaborative relationship with Governor Malloy’s administration, we felt it was in the best interest of all to pursue a similar agreement with Keno,” he said.
So there you have it. The governor negotiated a keno deal with the tribes but never told the public he was planning to expand gambling and cut the tribes in.
So there was time to talk it over with the tribes, but no time to inform anyone else.
Drexler said she has been been in conversations with the governor’s office about keno since 2010.
“We had been following the [budget] bill all session long and there was nothing in it about keno,” she said. “I was assured we would be alerted if anything was going to be put back in. I was not alerted.”
In doing the show, we found people — even in some of those neighboring states Buffkin talked about — who have studied the impact of introducing keno.  We talked to one researcher, Rachel Volberg, who was hired by the state of New York to study changes in keno customers during the first few years of the game. Volberg said her team found white non-urban males were the predominant players when the game was introduced, but within three years, young, Latino women in cities had emerged as the heaviest keno players.
We also talked to a therapist who specialized in gambling addition in Montana and a recovering Montana keno addict, both of whom described specific ways in which keno lures previous non-gamers into the world of betting and losing.
Our show was only 49 minutes long, but that makes it 49 minutes longer than the public debate the legislature had about legalizing keno. 
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10 thoughts on “Keno: The Conversation That Never Happened

  1. Billy Yo

    Instead of making gambling an income source for state revenue, which is a extremely regressive form of raising funds, why not pass a law allowing legalized brothels and all recreational drugs at select locations around the state. You drive to a hotel-like accommodation. You check in and pay for a room for the night or by the hour. You visit the lounge to pick your favorite companion for your peccadilloes, then on to the bar to buy your favorite drugs and drink. Then adjourn to the room and pleasure time. Or as star Trek Deep Space Nine would say; a trip to Risa, a planet that existed for pleasure only.

    The revenues would be fantastic. And you wouldn’t get addicted to gambling. Oh, and I forgot to add that the latest in robatron companionship would be available for the sociopaths more closely affiliated with conservatives.

    1. Todd Zaino

      Or Billy you could be a real man, get a woman that doesn’t love you by the hour, not do illegal drugs, and be an adult for once in your life. Only a flaming liberal would want to legalize drugs, prostitution, keno, and other illicit activities. You, I suspect, was bottle fed. Ever plan on growing up Billy? Any laws and rules you agree with Billy?

      1. Todd Zaino

        Write whatever you like Cynical…it’s not conservatives who are aborting babies, making marijuana legal, early prison release, Section 8, EBT for illegals, drivers’ licenses for illegals, KENO, and all of the other anti-American activities do-gooding liberals are so darn proud of…nice track record!

      2. Billy Yo

        Cynical: It doth seem so, doesn’t it. Some antsy pantsies just don’t get the plan, though.

        Than Then todd. (my keyboard gave your a diminished first letter.)

        But one truth he said. I have no intention of growing up like he has.

  2. A Sad Day for Connecticut

    Our one party Democratic rule is making a mockery out of the governmental process in Connecticut. I would hope the voters in this state just sit back and look hard at what has happened to us since Governor Malloy won the governorship. Maybe they are, as the results of the election in Tolland might be the beginning of enough is enough.

  3. richard

    Haven’t you ever bought votes before?

    Next up: the tribes get 12.5% of sports betting and all their employees sport badges saying “Malloy Rocks!”

  4. OMG..grow up?

    OMG..grow up. thats funny. why dont you WAKE UP DUMBASS? fight for YOUR morals to become and stay as law. if some huge company was sponsoring Billys idea you would no doubt be fine with it…but then a big company would never be for immoral ideal like Billys. lol

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