More communities taking a gamble on Keno as revenues remain slim

  • Lyla Scheyd, 6, waits inside a voting booth with her grandmother Joann Scheyd at St. John’€s Parish Hall in Allenstown on Tuesday.

  • A drink, keno tickets and cash at Uncle Eddie’s tavern in Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts in 2017. Residents in 34 New Hampshire towns voted whether or not to allow Keno in their communities in Tuesday’s elections. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 3/12/2019 11:35:12 PM

Keno got a chance to move closer to its kindergarten-funding goals during Tuesday’s town elections when 34 towns were deciding whether to allow the Bingo-like lottery game.

Locally the game was approved in Allenstown, 260-93,  Andover, 47-45, Epsom, 639-377, and Northwood, 424-486.

The game was rejected in Deerfield, 478-585, and Gilford, 497-582.

As a sign of how contentious legalized gambling can be, the issue was debated in Andover even though it was only theoretical: There’s no bar or restaurant in town that could host Keno. However, plans are in the works for a suitable tavern to open up, but there’s no word if the owners want Keno or not.

Currently, Keno is allowed in 66 towns and cities and is played in 160 restaurants and other business, with “more than a dozen” other establishments waiting for permission to pay it, according to the Lottery Commission.

That number is far below the 250 businesses that the commission says would be necessary to generate an optimistic revenue target of $8.5 million. The shortfall is a reflection of the fact that several large communities, including Concord, Portsmouth and Exeter, turned down Keno last year.

When Keno was legalized last year the idea was that it would provide funding for school districts with full-day kindergarten programs, which would require an estimated $11 million. Profits have fallen so far short of that figure that the Department of Education has instructed school districts not to expect more than the minimum amount promised – $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student – and the state budget will have to pay part of that amount.

The state hopes that play is picking up. The first week of March saw record Keno sales of $588,821, the Lottery Commission reported.

In the meantime, the legislature is considering whether to allow another type of gambling – gambling on sporting events – in bars and restaurants or else in casinos.

Such a move would bring in between $1.5 million and $7.5 million the first year, the Lottery Commission has estimated.

Proponents of such programs say they take pressure off property taxes and are preferable to taxation because they are voluntary. Opponents say they just spread the idea of gambling, feed on people with gambling addiction, and historically cause more problems for poorer people.

Keno was passed largely because it was designed to supplant state funding for full-day kindergarten. The law established a state guaranteed rate of $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student and hoped to use Keno revenues to pay additional money to schools as it became available. Those revenues have come up short.

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


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