Governor shedding light on keno idea [Republican-American]

March 18, 2014

Malloy says comments were misconstrued

HARTFORD — As Connecticut’s flirtation with keno appears on the verge of demise, the Malloy administration is opening up about how the bingo-style game of chance was introduced into last year’s budget negotiations.

The two-year, $37.6 billion budget that was approved last year authorized the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to add keno to its lineup, but now lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are preparing to reverse that decision.

The origins of the keno proposal came into question recently after Malloy stated that he did not know about the behind-the-scenes keno discussions during last May’s budget talks.

His statement was challenged by a Republican lawmaker who used a Freedom of Information inquiry to show that Malloy advisers were aware of the keno idea before the budget negotiations.

Since then, Malloy and top aides have said his statements on keno were misconstrued.

The governor’s office now says Malloy was not surprised that keno was included in the final budget deal, but rather he was amazed that keno had come up during the budget negotiations.

Legislators had been exploring the possibility of adding keno to the lottery lineup since the early 1990s. In 2010, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed keno as a lottery game to help balance the state budget. She had raised the idea a year earlier.

The Malloy administration says keno was not its idea. Negotiators for the House and Senate Democrats put keno on the table, according to Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the governor’s Office of Policy and Management.

MALLOY’S COMMENTS TO reporters last month stirred up questions about how keno came up during the budget talks. It also led a Republican lawmaker to publicly challenge his truthfulness.

While Malloy said at the time that keno was not his idea, he and Democratic leaders declined to say how the proposal was initially raised, creating confusion over its origins.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, still will not comment on the origins of keno.

Sharkey said talking about who first raised keno would violate the confidentiality of budget negotiations.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, had accused Malloy of lying about his knowledge of keno and the administration’s role based on internal emails that showed the governor’s budget team had worked behind the scenes on keno.

Witkos had received 77 pages of emails and memos that were exchanged between top officials in OPM, the legislature’s budget office and others involved in the negotiations.

The emails revealed that administration officials were discussing adding keno to lottery games nine days before it became public knowledge that it would be part of the final budget package on May 30.

In that interim, Lieutenant Gov. Nancy Wyman contacted the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to feel them out. The state would need their cooperation to institute the game because the state and tribes have signed a compact that largely limits legalized gambling to the two casinos on their reservations.

The governor’s office confirmed Wyman’s involvement in response to an inquiry from The Republican-American. Due to the newspaper’s request, administration officials recently reviewed internal records to piece together how keno came up.

Barnes said the internal review found that the House and Senate negotiators had offered up keno as a possible revenue item. The documentation included agendas for negotiation sessions and backup documents.

At some point, Wyman reported that the Pequots and Mohegans were willing to deal. On May 30, OPM provided the exact provision on keno that appeared in the budget legislation.

Two days later, the legislature approved a budget plan that included keno and empowered the Malloy administration to offer each tribe a 12.5 percent cut of keno receipts.

IT WAS ESTIMATED LAST year that keno receipts would total $3.8 million this year and $27 million next year. The estimates took into account the payouts to the Pequots and Mohegans.

Sharkey and Williams now have come out against keno, saying it is no longer needed. Malloy has stated that he is willing to sign legislation to repeal keno. A bill could be heading his way.

The Public Safety and Security Committee voted 24-0 on March 11 to approve legislation to authorize the repeal of keno.