Capitol Connection: Repealing Keno, All Bets Are Off

April 22, 2014

Keno is not dead. No one likes it. No one wants it. But it is still alive and well in Connecticut.

Over the past few months we saw strong bipartisan support and united efforts to repeal keno. But now, all efforts to kill the lottery game are stalled. When the Finance Committee refused to call a vote on a bill that would put an end to keno legislative action was stopped dead in its tracks.

The stalled process makes no sense and raises many questions about what is happening behind the scenes.

The story of keno in Connecticut falls into the mystery “whodunit” genre. Legalizing keno was a poor policy decision made last year and inserted into the state budget at the last minute to help boost revenue numbers. And after the deed was done, no one wanted to take credit for it.

When the public learned about keno, opponents spoke strongly against it. In June 2013, a poll from Quinnipiac University showed that nearly 60 percent of Connecticut residents were opposed to the plan. Once lawmakers heard the outcry, they began echoing the public’s concerns.

In February, Governor Malloy denied his involvement in developing plans for keno and Senate President Williams said he too had never been a supporter of the lottery game. House Speaker Sharkey went further, expressing his desire to abandon keno saying, “Keno was a late addition to the budget last year as a way to help fill a budget hole, but now the revenue is not needed so I don’t see a reason to go forward with it, particularly when it hasn’t even started.”

Along with the public comments, multiple bills were quickly proposed by both Republicans and Democrats to repeal the legalization. We made progress with one bipartisan bill in particular, House Bill No. 5387 An Act Concerning Keno. The bill, which would repeal keno, was quickly voted out of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee with 24 yea votes and 1 absent vote.

Despite the overwhelming support in Public Safety, when the bill came before the Finance Committee this month it was held, meaning we did not get to vote on it. Without a vote, the bill cannot move forward.

So, why did the Finance Committee refuse to call a vote? If everyone is so against keno, why are we not taking action? What has changed?

Keno still preys on the poor. It is still a disgraceful way to take money away from the public and feed it into government. And, it was still snuck into the state budget at the last minute, skipping over the legislative vetting process. Despite all this, the outrage is inexplicably fizzling.

The repeal of keno seemed guaranteed at the start of the legislative session. But today, all bets are off. Some people seem intent on sweeping the issue under the rug, for what reason I cannot be sure. I believe that the state legislature deserves the opportunity to vote on repealing keno. While we were denied a voice in legalizing keno, we definitely deserve a voice in repealing it.