Keno vote turns into a crapshoot, fails in Concord, passes elsewhere

  • Jerry Venne, 70, of Concord exits a voting booth at the Ward 10 polling place at Broken Ground School in Concord on Election Day, Nov. 7, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Jerry Venne was torn about voting for or against the gambling game keno during Tuesday’s election in Concord.

“I’ve seen what gambling can do to people, but I like that it’s going to go to the kids. It’s a hard vote,” said Venne, 70, at Broken Ground School, the polling place for Ward 10.

Other Concord voters were torn too, but ultimately keno was defeated, 2,249-1,723, a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent

Voters in cities across the state were asked to weigh in on the gambling game “Keno603” on Tuesday, which has been described as a digital cross between bingo and a lottery scratch ticket.

It turned out to be a crapshoot whether it passed or failed with six cities approving it, three rejecting it and one too close to call.

To the north, voters in Laconia approved it, with 54 percent supporting keno and 46 percent against it. Unofficial results showed 713 in favor compared with 606 against.

In Claremont, keno passed, 866-440. Voters in Manchester, Nashua, Berlin and Somersworth all said yes to the game.

But other cities were resoundingly against it, including Dover, which defeated it, 1,509-1,164, and Keene, where it went down, 1,450-820.

In Rochester, the outcome may have been decided by the margin of a single vote.

Voters in Franklin already approved the game in a citywide election Oct. 3, while officials in Portsmouth decided against putting it on the ballot.

In Concord, the vote would have allowed roughly 65 eligible restaurants, bars and social clubs to ask the state’s Liquor Commission to host the game. A dozen Concord establishments had already pre-applied for Keno603, which was pitched as a way to fund statewide full-day kindergarten.

State lawmakers legalized keno last year and left the decision to allow the game up to each municipality’s residents or elected officials.

Starting next school year, every school with a full-day program is set to receive an extra $1,100 per kindergartner from keno revenues. If keno revenues exceed expectations, schools may receive more. No school’s kindergarten funding is contingent on a municipality’s participation.

The idea that keno would support all-day kindergarten was a powerful lure for many who felt voting for the game meant supporting education.

Aidan Redmond, 31, said he thought about what might be best for his 2-year-old daughter when he cast his ballot.

“As a parent, I have to think about the all-day kindergarten aspect,” he said in from the polls in Ward 4, at the Boys & Girls Club. “I would want that for my child.”

Mike Lafontaine, in Ward 5, said he voted for keno because he didn’t think it was too different from the lottery tickets the state already sells.

“It seems like there’s not a strong argument against it if we’re going to do all the rest of the gambling,” Lafontaine said outside the Green Street recreational facility on Tuesday.

Norma Milne, also in Ward 5, said she voted against keno, and expected the city as a whole would reject it.

“I think the feeling in this particular community is that it is highly addictive,” she said. “I just think we can find better things to do with our time.”

Ward 10 moderator Jae Whitelaw said she worried that some voters didn’t know much about the issue.

“I had someone ask me, ‘What is keno?’ ” she said.

Other moderators said voters were almost missing the keno question, which was located at the very bottom of the ballot. They said several people commented that they missed the question entirely.

Whitelaw said she wondered how many people cast ballots without filling out the question about the gambling game. About 720 voters, slightly more than 15 percent of all voters, left the keno question blank on their Concord ballots.

“We’re not going to know how many didn’t vote because they didn’t care, how many didn’t see the question or how many just had no clue what to do because they didn’t understand it,” she said.

Whitelaw said another element is that New Hampshire residents are not used to having referendum questions on the ballot compared to other states where it is commonplace, like in Maine.

In New Hampshire, keno is projected to bring in $9 million in revenue.

During each keno game, players choose from one to 12 numbers, out of 80 possibilities. Every five minutes, a computer randomly generates and displays 20 winning numbers on a video monitor, with a payout for numbers chosen; the more numbers players match, the more they win, with a variety of combinations allowed.

A player can wager from $1 to $25 per game. Under the new state law, establishments can offer keno from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week; and players have to be at least 18 years old.

Venne said he knows keno isn’t perfect, but if people want to have gambling, putting the money toward education is not a bad compromise.

“I’m not 100 percent sure that the keno is going to take care of the situation, but this is the best thing I’ve heard the city come up with so far,” he said.