Mohegan official says state-run keno still needs tribes' approval

State-run keno would require the gaming tribes' say-so.

A Mohegan Tribe official issued that reminder Thursday in the wake of a report that the proposed state budget would authorize the Connecticut Lottery to introduce keno, a revenue-producing game of chance that's been the exclusive domain of the tribally owned casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

"Our position hasn't changed," Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans' chief of staff, said. "We, the two tribes, have the exclusive right to offer casino games - of which keno is one - in the State of Connecticut. ... Clearly, that exclusivity has value."

An online report in which House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said keno was "likely" to be legalized promised to revive a debate that's been mostly dormant since 2010. Sharkey told that legislative leaders were seeking to ensure the tribes were OK with the plan.

"We obviously want to make sure we're good with our friends on the reservations," the speaker told the news website.

Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for Sharkey, said legalizing keno is under consideration.

"It's something on the table," Rosenberg said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office had nothing to say on the subject.

Bunnell said no formal discussions regarding state-run keno have taken place between the governor's office and the tribes.

"(Mohegan Tribal) Chairman (Bruce) Bozsum did mention some time ago to Gov. Malloy that he would be willing to sit down and negotiate if keno was something the governor and the legislature were interested in pursuing," Bunnell said. "Any agreement between the state and the tribes would have to be mutually beneficial."

Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell first proposed keno in 2009 as a way to help balance the state budget and revived the plan in 2010, saying it eventually would produce $60 million a year for the state. The plan drew opposition from gambling opponents and disagreement about whether keno is a lottery-style game or a casino game subject to the state's gaming compacts with the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Keno games are operated by state lottery agencies in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states.

A March 2010 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 70 percent of registered voters in Connecticut opposed the introduction of keno.

Mohegan Sun shut down its keno operation last September, a move Bunnell said was temporary.

"We're looking at new and better products," he said. "Chairman Bozsum just recently met with a vendor of a new keno product."

Attempts to reach a Mashantucket Pequot spokesman were unsuccessful.

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