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Keno? Most in Valley Say ‘Don’t Know’

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/17/2017 12:45:14 AM
Modified: 9/17/2017 12:45:15 AM

Keno may have drawn the interest of New Hampshire lawmakers as a promising potential new source of gambling revenue, but it’s fair to say that the Legislature’s level of attention has not been matched on the local level in the Upper Valley — at least not so far.

An informal survey of selectboard members and city councilors indicates that few, if any, are thinking about whether to offer the lottery game in their municipalities, and few drinking establishments seem to be clamoring for it.

The one outlier is Claremont, where the City Council voted last month to put the keno question before voters during November balloting. In fact, that might explain why little discussion has occurred in other towns. Before a town can authorize drinking establishments to offer the lottery game, voters must approve the measure. While Claremont holds its municipal elections in November, most towns wouldn’t seek approval from voters until Town Meeting in March.

Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said she did not want the city to wait a year before giving voters a chance to weigh in.

“We had to act on it soon, and I did not want to miss the opportunity,” she said.

Elsewhere in New Hampshire, Manchester, Concord, Berlin and Franklin are among the communities that have decided to put the question before voters. All are voting in November.

The law authorizing keno, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in July, allows any establishment that serves alcohol to have keno machines. There is an annual $500 licensing fee charged by the state. The business receives an 8 percent commission on every $1 ticket sold and of the estimated $44 million in revenue in the first full year of operation, about $8.3 million would go to the state’s education trust fund to help fund full-day kindergarten. The bulk of the revenue would go toward payouts.

Keno is sold through self-service ticket machines. Keno cards have 80 numbers and a player picks 12 for a minimum bet of $1. Drawings of 20 numbers are held every five minutes and displayed on a monitor. Tickets are good for only one drawing.

According to Maura McCann, director of marketing for the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, Massachusetts realizes about $1 billion in revenue from keno and about $25 million of that comes from New Hampshire residents.

Under the new law, regardless of whether the city or town allows keno, districts that offer full-day kindergarten will receive an additional $1,100 a year per student.

In Lebanon, the prospect of offering that new gambling option does not appear to be on anyone’s radar.

“We have not discussed it and nobody has said anything to me,” Lebanon Mayor Sue Prentiss said.

Similar reports came from elected officials in other municipalities.

“There has been no discussion,” said G. William Helms, chairman of the New London Selectboard. “It has not crossed my mind.”

Keno was briefly mentioned at a recent Enfield Selectboard meeting, at which Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth said he simply wanted to inform the board of the new law and it is something they will need to discuss in the coming weeks.

“It is premature to weigh in one way or another,” Aylesworth said. “We want much more information and don’t want to make a knee-jerk decision.”

Nor does there seem to be a groundswell of interest in the game from those who want to play it or businesses that want to offer it. In Lebanon, both Prenitss and City Council Karen Liot Hill said they haven’t heard a peep.

“Literally, no one has come to us to talk about it,” said Liot Hill.

Josh Touhy, co-owner of Salt hill pub, with locations in Hanover, Lebanon, Newport and the Shanty in Newbury, N.H., said in an email they have been keeping an eye on the topic the past year but have not decided whether it would be a benefit to their customers. Touhy said new business is something they are always interested in but it cannot be at the expense of the “atmosphere” they have worked to achieve at Salt hill.

“We try to make decisions always with our guests in mind, and have been informally seeking opinions at the pubs. So far we’ve heard viewpoints both for and against,” Tuohy wrote, adding that it may not matter unless voters, if they have the opportunity, approve keno.

Peter St. Pierre, club manager with the American Legion Post 22 in Lebanon, said on Saturday that his organization fully supports keno.

“We have discussed it and we are all for it,” St. Pierre said. “And the 8 percent commission would go to the charity work we do.”

St. Pierre said he would like to speak with other establishments in town and possibly get a group together to approach the City Council and ask for it to be put on the ballot.

“We think it is a win-win for everybody.”

New London Town Administrator Kimberley Hallquist said no one from the community has approached the board to have a discussion on keno.

That may explain why few town officials interviewed for this report expressed strong feeling about whether they thought keno was a good option for their community.

“I have not given it a lot of thought. We are just not in that place now,” Prentiss said. “We have to have a discussion with the community that would include the schools and businesses.”

In Newport, Selectboard Chairman Jeff Kessler said keno would not have been his preferred method for paying for all-day kindergarten and he doesn’t plan on playing.

“If somebody brings it up we would consider it but it isn’t on the top of our priority list,” Kessler said.

Before making a decision, Kessler said, he wants to hear from businesses and others who may be affected. One of his concerns is whether drinking establishments that choose not to offer the game would be put at a competitive disadvantage.

“Would that business feel forced to do so because of the competition?” Kessler wondered.

In Charlestown, Selectboard member Steve Neill said he has heard no discussion in town about keno and unless some residents step forward to ask the board to place the question on the Town Meeting warrant, he does not believe it will be considered. The ballot measure can be by petition or vote of the Selectboard.

“If nobody brings it up, I would be surprised if we put it before voters,” Neill said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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