Last year, the General Assembly authorized the state to get into yet another form of gambling: keno. It’s a bingo-style affair that’s been available in Nevada forever and that some states make available in supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, bars and restaurants.
In essence, keno is the unacknowledged stepchild of last year’s legislative session; no one in Hartford wants to be seen as supporting it, but neither does anyone want to take it off the table — just in case it’s needed to make ends meet. “You can’t find a person in this place who takes credit for keno,” Rep. Sean Williams, of Watertown, told the Connecticut Mirror. Williams is the ranking Republican on the finance committee.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat, said there was never a “groundswell of support” for keno, but now he plans to “reserve judgment” on it until the revenue picture becomes clearer. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he’s no keno supporter and will sign a bill to keep it out if one reaches his desk. Such a bill has been introduced.
Here are a few reasons to oppose keno in our state:
• Follow the money: The state’s take from all legal forms of gambling has run as high as $718 million a year. Like the lottery, like gaming at the Indian casinos and like every other form of gambling that this or any other state has adopted or considered, it’s all about putting cash in the till — with no regard for what effect it may have on society.
• Between them, the two Indian casinos would get 25 percent of the keno take anyway, because they have an exclusive right to run such games in this state.
• Gambling used to be considered a vice — until lawmakers found out how profitable it could be, that is. Once the exclusive domain of organized crime, gambling (more often called “gaming” by proponents, because it sounds nicer) is now largely a state enterprise, implicitly endorsed by all of us. What does that say about our state?
• One reason it was considered a vice is that some people can’t control their gambling impulse and wind up losing far more than they can afford to lose — including their homes. Should we be complicit in that?
• Part of the plan is to install keno in hundreds of new outlets, including bars — encouraging people to get drunk and throw even more of their money away. How can that be a good thing?
• Another effect we’ve seen before is that gambling disproportionately harms poor people; those who can least afford to throw their money away will be inordinately attracted to keno, especially if it’s available on every street corner, just as our state lottery makes much of its money on the backs of the poor.
• The governor should not be seriously thinking about sending a $55 tax rebate to just about every taxpayer in the state, at a cost of more than $150 million, when that may make it more likely that keno will somehow stay in the budget in order to make up some of that expenditure.
All told, there are plenty of reasons to keep keno out of Connecticut — and the only reason to allow it is a weak one, at best.