Editorial: The illusion of keno and full-day kindergarten

Thursday, November 09, 2017

In a letter to the editor on Monday, Concord City Councilor Byron Champlin and state Sen. Dan Feltes sent a message to the people of Concord: “Don’t believe the hype; keno money for full-day kindergarten is an illusion.”

They were saying that because it’s true.

The state’s “Kenogarten” law – established by Senate Bill 191 – is a transparent legislative scheme to apply full-day kindergarten as the bright red lipstick on an expanded-gambling pig. Lawmakers know that the best way to get someone to agree to something that isn’t very good for them is to attach it to something that is. It’s how the sausage in this country is made. The majority of people in New Hampshire clearly support full-day kindergarten, but you won’t see such passion for keno unless you hang out with a lot of lobbyists, bar owners or addicted gamblers. Enter SB 191.

As we wrote last summer, the people who spend their money on games of chance are typically the ones who can least afford to lose it. Keno, a highly addictive game, is essentially a regressive tax that feeds the cycle of poverty and adds to the burden on social programs. And who pays in the end? Taxpayers, of course. They always do. The goal of SB 191 was to obscure this fact by intertwining keno and all of its related problems with something that benefits all of society – full-day kindergarten. In their letter, Champlin and Feltes pointed to this legislative misdirection: “Keno revenue must far exceed all objective estimates in order for keno to add support for full-day kindergarten.”

But the seeds of conflation and confusion were already planted, as the “keno question” vote in Concord illustrated. While the final tally wasn’t all that close – 2,249 (57 percent) opposed to keno and 1,723 (43 percent) in favor – about 720 voters left the question blank. As Ward 10 moderator Jae Whitelaw said, “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.” By that same token, we don’t know how many “yes” or “no” votes were emphatic and how many were accompanied by a shrug or the flip of a coin. If murkiness is the goal of legislation, SB 191 is a gem.

Of the 10 cities that voted on keno on Tuesday, only Keene and Dover joined Concord in saying no. Voters in Laconia, Claremont, Manchester, Nashua, Berlin, Rochester and Somersworth, like Franklin before them, opened the gates. We can’t help but wonder how many of those who checked the “yes” box were under the illusion that they were doing something positive for their community.

They should know that this was always about gambling, not education.