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Hartford - State lawmakers want to have a public discussion about whether the state should continue with plans for the gambling game keno, possibly in bars and restaurants.
The General Assembly's Public Safety Committee on Thursday OK'd a bill for consideration that ultimately could stop any rollout of the game, which was authorized last year in the two-year state budget as a way to generate revenue. A public hearing eventually will be held on the legislation, which has yet to be drafted.
The committee's move came a day after Democratic House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he would work this session to repeal the implementation of keno. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other state politicians have also voiced opposition to the game coming on line.
"We know that it's not anything more than a bingo game, but since there's been so much input from leadership, we thought it was important to at least have a dialogue on keno," said Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
For years, state officials have batted around the idea of setting up keno. Last year, the legislature's majority Democrats reached a two-year, $44 billion budget deal with fellow Democrat Malloy that relied on $31 million in projected revenues from keno over two years. Malloy and legislative leaders, however, have been reluctant to take responsibility for keno appearing in the budget.
Since then, the state's quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation has been working to roll out keno, possibly by the fall. Anne M. Noble, the lottery corporation's chief executive, said about $53,000 in out-of-pocket costs have been spent so far on developing the game, such as working on the prize structure and designing a logo. The lottery is not funded with taxpayer money.
Noble said the lottery still needs to develop software and recruit retailers. But work on the project has essentially been put on hold, she said, as the state's Office of Policy and Management finalizes an agreement with Connecticut's two federally recognized Indian tribes, which operate gambling casinos.
Because the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes contend they have exclusive rights to games like keno, under a compact with the state, last year's budget bill authorized each tribe to receive 12.5 percent of keno's gross operating revenues.
Noble offered no opinion on whether the legislature should repeal plans for keno.
"We're prepared to do whatever the legislature would like us to do," she said, adding that lottery officials will be available to lawmakers to answer any questions about keno.
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said she believes the idea of suddenly stopping the keno rollout partly came up after lawmakers learned the current fiscal year is expected to end June 30 with a $505 million surplus. Deficits, however, are projected in future budget years.
"The primary reason that this was enacted was not because we thought it was a good gaming option. It was always, at least my understanding is, about the revenue stream. There are some different projections now, and I think that's how it was triggered."
Hartley, who opposes keno, said her committee didn't get an opportunity last year to hold a public hearing on what she called "a new and significant gaming option." She said it makes sense for the panel to now discuss whether to proceed with the game of chance in the state.