Projections that Connecticut will end the fiscal year in a surplus are leading state legislators to question the need for Keno gambling, a new addition to the state budget.
When drafting the budget last spring, the Connecticut General Assembly included a provision legalizing Keno, a bingo-style gambling game offered at restaurants and bars state-wide, which was projected to bring the state $27 million in revenue per year. But now that the state is facing a projected $500 million budget surplus for the 2014 fiscal year, lawmakers have begun advocating for Keno’s repeal.
The gambling game, which mimics the lottery by spitting out winning number combinations, has not yet been introduced in casinos or state lotteries. State Senator Andrea Stillman, a Democrat from Waterford, has proposed a bill to repeal Keno earlier this month.
“This was not done by me,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said at an event at Middlesex Community College last week. “I will point out that Keno is ubiquitous and is frequently run by lottery organizations in other states. But it’s a political decision.”
Malloy signed Keno into law last spring but added that he had and would continue to leave the decision to repeal it to the state’s legislative body.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said Keno seemed necessary last year as an alternative to increasing state revenue through higher taxes. According to the plan, the revenue from Keno would be shared with Connecticut’s Pequot and Mohegan tribes.
“Since last spring, the state’s budget situation has really improved,” Looney said. “No decision will be made before negotiating with the tribes.
Keno is waiting from approval from the Pequot and Mohegan tribes before it can be launched in their respective casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Stillman’s bill would remove Keno from the state’s budget plan. According to Sue Driscoll, Stillman’s spokesperson, many legislators have joined her in speaking out against Keno on the grounds of its legality.
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey has widely expressed his support for Stillman’s push to reppeal Keno.
“This was not being cheered last spring,” said Larry Perosino, Sharkey’s press secretary. “Keno was needed to fill a budget hole.”
Sharkey said in a press release last week that to go forward with Keno would be unnecessary because the budget hole that the gambling law was meant to fix has been filled.
He added that Keno was simply a revenue option.
“Legislative leaders and the governor will have to make a tough decision about whether or not to forego Keno proceeds,” Mayor Toni Harp said in a statement.
She added that though the current prediction is for a modest surplus, legislators would still have to consider whether repealing Keno will impact their ability to maintain a balanced budget for years to come.
In last year’s mayoral election, Harp and opponent Henry Fernandez disagreed on Keno, with Harp speaking in support of the existing law while Hernandez opposed it.
Connecticut nearly passed Keno in 2009 and 2010 when it faced similar budget shortfalls.