E-Mails Show Malloy Budget Team Worked On Keno Behind The Scenes [Hartford Courant]

March 3, 2014

Article as it appeared in Capitol Watch

Armed with newly released e-mails from the governor’s budget office, a Republican state senator says that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration was discussing the creation of keno gambling at least nine days before it was revealed publicly to rank-and-file legislators last year in the final state budget.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, a member of the legislative committee that oversees gambling, sought the public documents through a Freedom of Information request and received 77 pages of emails and memos that were sent back and forth between top officials at Malloy’s budget office, the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office, and House and Senate Democratic staff members, among others.

Malloy has distanced himself recently from keno, which polls show is unpopular in Connecticut.

Malloy has said he personally did not know about the behind-the-scenes keno discussions, but an email shows that his budget team was talking about it on May 21, 2013 – more than a week before Republicans blasted keno as a bad idea to raise revenue. Another email showed that a lawyer in Malloy’s budget office submitted the precise legal language for subsection (b) (4) of Section 12-806 of the state statutes regarding keno.

The keno plan was quickly approved without a public hearing by the Democratic-controlled legislature and then signed into law by Malloy as part of the overall budget package.

Since then, top legislative leaders say the state no longer needs keno as a revenue source because the state budget surplus is now projected at more than $500 million for the current fiscal year. Malloy says he would sign a bill to repeal keno.

“I am disappointed in the distortions coming from the governor’s office,” said Witkos. “The governor has repeatedly stated that keno was not his idea. However, his top officials had advance knowledge of the plans for keno and provided the language for the legislature’s budget.”

Witkos added, “As a state leader, it is disgraceful not to take responsibility for your own actions. It is even more shameful to lie about your role and knowledge.”

After Witkos released dozens of pages of emails, Malloy said he was not involved in the behind-the-scenes keno talks.

“If you’re asking about the administration – me? – I was not involved, and in point of fact, I had rejected the idea last year, and that’s why it wasn’t included in my package,” Malloy said when asked by The Courant.

Witkos, a former longtime police officer in Canton, serves on the public safety committee, which oversees gambling and keno.

The committee has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday at the state Capitol complex on House Bill 5387, which would repeal the keno law that is still currently on the books.

Keno has been controversial for years, and polls have shown opposition in Connecticut spanning the tenure of two governors. A poll by Quinnipiac University in June 2013 showed that 59 percent of residents were opposed to the plan, continuing a trend that started several years ago. The opposition was across the board from Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

A previous poll by Quinnipiac in March 2010 showed that 70 percent of voters were opposed to keno and only 27 percent were in favor. Only three percent of voters did not have an opinion on keno.

Malloy had defended keno last year as a highly popular game that is widely available in surrounding states and was expected to generate $27 million in the second year of the two-year budget.

“New York has it,” Malloy said after the budget was passed. “Massachusetts has it. Rhode Island has it. Maryland has it. New Jersey has it at numerous casinos. Everybody else has it as a lottery game.”

Last month, on the day when top leaders said they were against keno, Malloy said that keno was not his idea, but both Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey declined to say how the issue was initially raised.

“I wasn’t part of those discussions,” Malloy told reporters. “Those … were the end-of-the-session discussions that I wasn’t involved in, to tell you the truth. So I was [as] surprised as you were.”

The state lottery had been preparing to make the electronic game available to the general public in as many as 1,000 bars, restaurants, and convenience stores.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero blasted the idea last May before many legislators knew it had been inserted into the budget without their knowledge. ”What’s next?” Cafero asked at the time. “Cockfights and jai alai? Greyhound racing?”

Cafero predicted last summer that keno would never happen because of the lack of bipartisan support and said that it was an unnecessary expansion of gambling.