Concord quiet on keno

  • A map of all the places in Concord classified as "pouring establishments," according to the NH Liquor Commission. A public hearing on whether keno should be allowed in Concord will take place Oct. 16. Caitlin Andrews

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There’s a high interest in having keno approved in Concord, one of the state’s Lottery Commission officials said.

But you wouldn’t know it by the attendance at a public hearing held by the city council Monday night to give residents the chance to voice their feelings on the gambling game.

Of the half-dozen or so members of the audience, only state Rep. Paul Henle voiced his feelings about whether the game should come to Concord – and he was negative.

“This is not business as usual in the state of New Hampshire,” Henle said. “We decided decades ago to fund education partly through gambling ... but we have never tied the amount of money spent on education to the result of our gambling endeavors.”

He added: “How we choose to live as a society will change depending on how much we gamble. That’s despicable to me.”

Henle didn’t seem to be alone in his resistance to the game – Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag thanked Henle for “expressing his own thoughts more eloquently than I ever could.”

Of the councilors present, only one, Ward 3 Councilor Jennifer Kretovic, said they had ever played the game. She wasn’t a big fan, either, but declined to speak further on her personal feelings on the game coming to Concord.

“I’m just not a gambler,” she said. “I would rather hear from the residents. ... What I’m hearing in my ward is that people want full-day kindergarten, but not through keno.”

State House lawmakers legalized KENO 603 earlier this year, when it was pitched as a way to help fund full-day kindergarten; officials project that keno could bring in $9 million in revenue.

The law, however, leaves it up to each municipality’s residents or elected officials to decide whether to allow the game. Cities and towns must actively approve keno in order for the game to be played at “pouring establishments” within their borders, but no school’s kindergarten funding is contingent on the municipality’s participation.

Residents will have the chance to voice their opinion on keno again in November, but in ballot format. Other Granite State cities like Manchester and Claremont will also put the issue before voters in November; Franklin voted to approve it earlier this month for the eight establishments that would be eligible to apply to offer the game.

In Concord, the number of locations eligible for keno is much higher: Kelley-Jaye Cleland, director of sales and product development for lottery commission, said there are 63 “permissible” locations where keno could be offered in the city, and the commission has scheduled seven meetings with establishments to gauge interest. A list provided to the Monitor last week named 67 locations.

The owners of establishments applying for keno will be subject to a background check and will have to pay an annual $500 licensing fee, according to the state lottery commission.

These locations will keep 8 percent of every dollar spent on the KENO 603 game, according to the Lottery Commission. They can also earn bonuses – capped at $75,000 – for selling a KENO 603 prize of $10,000 or more.

In addition to the money generated for businesses, schools with full-day kindergarten will get a piece of the pie, too.

Starting next school year, every school with a full-day program is set to receive an extra $1,100 per kindergartner. If keno revenues exceed expectations, however, schools statewide may receive more.

Cleland assured councilors that the game is non-invasive and won’t bother nearby patrons. She also said approving the game would bring money spent in Massachusetts playing the game back into the state.

In some of Concord’s pouring establishments, feelings on keno were mixed.

Bill Dunn, manager at Tandy’s Top Shelf Pub, said he personally was for keno, although he said he couldn’t speak for the owner of Tandy’s.

“I’d be into anything that can bring more people into the establishment,” he said. “Also if it makes more money for the state, and goes toward art programs and music programs for kids.”

But Jon Steiner, manager at Penuche’s Ale House, said he was skeptical, although he noted he has not discussed the possibility of keno with the bar’s owner. He said the bar’s staff frequently has to break up betting when patrons are playing pool.

“We don’t encourage gambling on any level,” he said, noting that customers can also watch sports or play cards at the bar.

“Once you open that box, you don’t know how far it’s going to go,” he said.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)