Capitol Connection: Keno, Connecticut’s Whack a Mole

June 24, 2015

No one likes it. No one wants it. No one suggested it. But hey, it means more tax dollars.

That’s the reasoning surrounding the keno debate in Connecticut that has been brewing over the past few years.

Keno, a highly addictive game of chance, has become a perpetual whack a mole game in Connecticut politics. While no one particularly loves the idea, it keeps popping up. Every time it does, someone slaps it down. But this year, the mole has all but won.

This year’s rather horrendous budget includes keno as a revenue source, and is counting on the gambling game to bring in over $40 million over the next two fiscal years. The argument from supporters this year is that Connecticut lottery needs keno to remain competitive with other gaming programs. And it just happens to help the fact that we are in a fiscal crisis and searching for ways to find revenue and crunch the numbers to make a tough budget work.

Keno has had a rough history gaining traction in our state. Currently, this bingo-like game can be played in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York as well as in Connecticut’s two casinos.

The legalization of keno elsewhere in CT was proposed by Governor Rell years ago, and rejected twice. Then the tables turned.

In 2013, the legalization of keno was inserted into the Democrat’s state budget at the last minute to help boost revenue numbers. But after the deed was done, no one wanted to take credit for it. The governor denied his office put it in the budget, as did Democrat lawmakers. While emails uncovered by a freedom of information request showed that the governor’s office had a little more knowledge then they first let on, the controversy fizzled when lawmakers repealed the legalization of the game last year when faced with public pressure.

If it wasn’t repealed last year, the budget would have allowed as many as 1,000 locations to start offering keno, including bars, restaurants and convenience stores.

But this year, keno is back. If the budget passed by the General Assembly becomes law the Connecticut Lottery Corp is poised to introduce the game and expects it could be up and running by the holiday season this year.

While keno keeps popping up, I don’t think our state should be using it as a solution to plug holes in our state budget. It fails to address the structural long-term change Connecticut needs to push for in our tax structure.

Clearly, the state budget is a mess. Relying on keno is yet another reason why lawmakers need to scrap this budget and start anew. Whack a mole is a hard game to win, but when you work together, it’s easier to end the game.