Connecticut Lottery chairman says keno in early stages

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut lottery employees have begun discussions with bars and taverns on hosting keno terminals, but it will be months and months before the game is made available to the state’s gamblers, the chairman of the state lottery’s board said.

Frank Farricker, chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors, said in an interview with The Associated Press that officials are still conducting market research, setting up regulations and negotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with the Indian tribes that own Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

He said rollout of the bingo-style lottery game is “a multi-million-dollar proposition” that should take at least six months to complete even after officials complete the preliminary work they’re doing now.

“As chairman of the board and speaking for the board, we’re trying to be as responsible as we can with the revenue of the state and to approach keno implementation in a very, very layered fashion. We really want to build our blocks,” he said.

No decisions have been made on how many terminals might be installed around the state, Farricker said Thursday.

Keno, a game of chance found in supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, bars and restaurants in neighboring states, was authorized by the General Assembly in June as part of a deal to balance the state budget.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. sent a letter this week to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director, Benjamin Barnes, questioning why state lawmakers have not been briefed by the administration about the implementation of keno, which he complained was originally tucked into the final budget bill without a public hearing. The Norwalk Republican said it appears transparency is lacking in the game’s implementation process.

“A small group of men and women will emerge from a room one day in the near future and impose a new law that greatly expands gambling in this state,” Cafero wrote.

Farricker denied that discussions about keno have been kept under wraps. He noted minutes from the lottery board’s June 27 meeting that referred to keno several times during an open session, including discussion of plans to revise the lottery budget to account for keno revenue projections. Discussion of “new game initiatives for keno,” however, is listed as a topic for the closed executive session.

For years, Connecticut has batted around the idea of setting up keno. During the last legislative session, majority Democrats reached a two-year, $44 billion budget deal with Malloy that relied on $31 million in projected revenues from keno over two years. Because both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes contend they have exclusive rights to such games at their casinos under a compact with the state, the budget bill authorized the tribes to each receive 12.5 percent of keno’s gross operating revenues.

Barnes said in a letter to Cafero this week that he was authorized by the budget legislation to negotiate that agreement with the tribes and those talks “have not progressed to a point where an update to the General Assembly would be either informative or appropriate.”

Besides a deal with the tribes, Farricker said many other matters still need to be settled, including the number and location of keno terminals that will be set up. Farricker said reports there will be 1,000 terminals are not true; Anne Noble, the lottery’s president and CEO, had told state lawmakers in recent years that 600 terminals might be possible.

Farricker said some lottery staff have been polling the lottery’s vendors to see how keno might work with their existing businesses. They’ve also spoken with owners of taverns and bars on hosting terminals, but no final decision has been made, he said.

“None of this has been decided. We’re still working hard to make sure that when we do come up with final answers for how we’re going to roll out keno, that it’s done appropriately and responsibly and it’s done with the idea of our partners and the players in mind,” he said.

But Farricker is confident keno will move forward, saying “I see no impediments to a successful launch.”