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It sure looks like Gov. Dannel Malloy, in saying this week he would go along with a repeal of keno, is acting out of political expediency.
Last year, in an 11th-hour budget deal between Malloy and General Assembly Democrats, a plan to launch full-scale keno gambling around the state was born.
The deal completely locked the public out of the process. With some $30 million in keno revenue dropped into the two-year-budget, the plan called for an agreement to be hammered out with the state's two casino-running Indian tribes, giving them a share of revenue in exchange for giving up their monopoly on non-lottery gambling in the state.
But a funny thing happened along the way. The public balked. The secret keno deal got a lot of bad press.
Something makes me think Gov. Malloy must have paid attention to some coincidentally timed poll questions this summer in which voters roundly rejected the idea of keno and also gave Republican Tom Foley an edge over Malloy in any gubernatorial rematch.
And then this week, Malloy, unannounced as a candidate for re-election but in full campaign mode, signaled he would be open to the legislature repealing keno.
It's always unappealing when a politician does something to expose raw political ambition, instead of leadership, on an important public policy issue.
But Malloy's pivot on keno this week seemed especially unseemly.
First of all, the governor blamed the legislators for putting keno in the budget in the first place. It wasn't in his original budget, he said, and he's only been attempting to implement it because he was instructed to by the General Assembly.
All during the last year, while the public complained about the keno deal he signed off on and worked to implement, the governor never once thought to speak up, to say it wasn't his doing?
Suddenly the governor is merely a servant of the General Assembly, unable to say what he thinks about the idea of pervasive gambling in restaurants and bars across the state?
The governor and his staff want to say it wasn't our idea, but they don't want to say whose it was. And, of course, they went along with it.
None of this is what I would call political leadership, just squishy gamesmanship.
To make matters worse, I got more stonewalling from the governor's office when I asked about the status of the agreement between the state and the tribes over implementing keno.
Malloy press spokesman Andrew Doba said an agreement has been reached but that apparently one of the tribes needs to put it to a vote by members. I got no response, after two days, to follow-up questions about Doba's vague characterization of the required tribal ratification, nor a copy of the tribal keno agreement, which I also requested.
Doba also couldn't explain why the General Assembly doesn't have to ratify the new keno deal with the tribes in the same way lawmakers must ratify all other changes to the gambling compacts with the two tribes. After all, they put the keno money in the budget last year, but the keno deal with the tribes had not yet been penned. Indeed, it still seems to be a secret.
It is curious that one tribe requires ratification, while the people of Connecticut get no say about whether there will be keno. In fact, they apparently can't even see the deal.
Actually, one lawmaker, Sen. Andrea Stillman of Waterford, has entered the debate and introduced legislation that would repeal keno. Good for her for submitting the charged topic to a public review.
I also heard this week from former U.S. Rep. Bob Steele, who once represented this now-casinoed part of Connecticut and is against expanding gambling in the state.
In his travels around the state over the last year, Steele said he was been struck by the strong reaction to the notion of allowing keno in Connecticut.
"Nine-five percent of the people are appalled," he said.
Hence, I would suggest, the gubernatorial pivot this week.
This is the opinion of David Collins.