Up for vote: Will keno come to Capital City?

Monitor staff
Monday, November 06, 2017

Concord voters will have a chance Tuesday to make the biggest gambling-related change the city has seen in years, deciding whether keno should come to town, but the possibility hasn’t exactly galvanized the community.

“We haven’t put a lot of thought into it, yet,” said Scott Ausin, owner of Vinnie’s Pizzaria on South Main Street, when asked whether he would apply to have a keno machine in his restaurant. “I assume it’s something that we might be interested in, but we’ll have to see.”

“I don’t even know what keno is,” said Soula Loutas, owner of the Gaslighter restaurant on North Main Street, another possible location for the lottery-like gambling game.

State lawmakers legalized keno this year after it was pitched as a way to help pay for full-day kindergarten – officials estimate it could bring the state $9 million a year – but they left it up to cities and towns to decide whether to allow it.

Franklin became the first city to accept keno when voters approved the game in October elections by roughly a 60 percent margin in all three city wards.

At least two Franklin establishments, VFW Post 1698 and J.J’s Woodfired Pizza, have applied to the state and hope to have the game operating by mid-December.

Several other communities are putting it before voters next week including Concord, where on Tuesday, ballots will ask “Should we allow the operation of keno games within the city of Concord?” (The question is at the very bottom of the ballot, so don’t overlook it.)

A simple majority vote will allow the roughly 65 eligible restaurants, bars and social clubs in the city to ask the state’s Liquor Commission to host what the New Hampshire Lottery Commission has branded Keno603.

A dozen city establishments have pre-applied, getting to the front of the line if Concord voters okay the game. Among them is Makris Lobster and Steak House on Sheep Davis Road.

“We thought it would be a good alternative for people sitting in the bar,” said owner Greg Makris. “We don’t believe it’s going to draw more people in, but it will give them an alternative while they’re here – just like buying a lottery ticket. It’s not going to be intrusive.”

One person with experience at keno who was encountered while seeking restaurateurs’ opinions agreed with that assessment.

Jordan, a bartender who preferred not to give her last name or list the Concord establishments where she works, said her career started in Massachusetts, where keno machines have long been a fixture.

“I know that you get a lot more people in the bar with them. It was a big thing,” she said of working at a bar with a keno game. “It’s a little more work, because we have to run a separate machine that you scan your tickets on, but it’s worth it. … We would get tipped very well if somebody hit (a winner).”

Keno is sometimes compared to a cross between Bingo and a lottery scratch ticket.

During each 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; you have to be at least 18 years old to play.

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.

They keep 8 percent of every dollar spent on the game and can earn bonuses up to $75,000 when a major prize is hit.

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

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)