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'King of Keno' has big plans for NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 12. 2017 8:24PM
Lottery Director Charles McIntyre holds a winning Powerball ticket at a press conference in Concord in 2016. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)

CONCORD - You can call Charles McIntyre the "king of Keno."

While state policymakers and restaurant and bar owners scramble to understand what this electronic bingo-like game could mean to their coffers, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission has its own resident guru.

McIntyre is executive director of the state lottery, but from 2003 to 2010 he was in charge of expanding Keno in the state where this game flourishes like no other:


Last year, Keno generated $920 million in Massachusetts; that's 25 percent of the $3.8 billion raised from the game in the 17 states and the District of Columbia where it was legal.

The average per-capita profit from Keno in these states is $3; in Massachusetts, it's $150.

"We did kind of figure out how to expand Keno in ways other states did not and we were often looking at new wrinkles," McIntyre said during an interview.

North Carolina and New Hampshire this spring became the 18th and 19th states to legalize Keno.

Cities and towns in New Hampshire must vote to OK Keno in their communities. The state is promising a minimum of $1,100 per pupil from the game to offset the cost of full-day kindergarten.

Prior to coming to New Hampshire, McIntyre was assistant executive director for the lottery in Massachusetts.

Clyde Barrow studies the New England gambling industry at the University of Texas and returns to New Hampshire periodically to speak to lawmakers.

"The Massachusetts State Lottery has done a really good job in creating a very deep and broad market for Keno," Barrow said of the game the Bay State first offered in 1993. "It's practically everywhere."

Massachusetts can thank McIntyre for that, since in 2007 he helped come up with Keno-to-Go. It allows players to buy a ticket even at locations that don't have those monitors where you can watch the game played in real time. These gamblers instead check their results at home on the lottery's website.

This expanded Keno bets to 6,000 locations in the state, a saturation level not likely to happen in New Hampshire.

Other creative Massachusetts moves: shortening the interval between drawings from five to four minutes; allowing betting to start daily at 10 a.m.; and introducing a multiplier known as Keno Bonus that lets players double their wagers.

Only liquor license spots

The Keno game the New Hampshire Legislature legalized to support full-day public kindergarten only permits the game to be played in "pouring" establishments - those with a liquor license. That includes bars, restaurants, social clubs, brew pubs, ballrooms and even some sports venues.

In the past, McIntyre has estimated as many as 250 locations might elect to offer Keno in New Hampshire.

Right now, five of the top 10 Keno locations in Massachusetts are within 10 miles of the New Hampshire border; they include Ted's Mobil in Methuen, Dick's Variety North in Salisbury and Mr. Mike's Restaurant in Haverhill.

"It was one of the selling points; particularly along the border, there are stores that are camped out to take advantage of the border business. Store owners are very smart," McIntyre said.

"We always made sure those stores were well-stocked and well-supported."

Now, McIntyre gets to return the favor - trying to develop Keno so that his state can coax some of these Massachusetts patrons to come north to play.

"This represents the base potential revenue stream and we just go get that right back and then some we hope," McIntyre said.

"In New Hampshire you will win 5 percent more because unlike Massachusetts, you don't have to pay income tax," he said. "Trust me, we will be marketing that benefit in a big way."

Already Keno savvy

While decision-makers here still need to learn more about Keno, the New Hampshire Lottery's own marketing finds many New Hampshire players are already well-educated.

"Already 50 percent of our betting base say they play Keno regularly," McIntyre said. "They are going to play it here; I know it will catch on."

Like all lottery games, the lion's share of the Keno money will come from the southern tier. Hillsborough and Rockingham counties generate 60 percent of current lottery revenues.

"You can't sell anything to people who don't exist," McIntyre said. "You need the body count."

McIntyre is going all over the state to pitch the game, including to the city of Berlin on Aug. 21.

To put it on the November municipal ballots, New Hampshire's 13 cities need to decide whether to approve a referendum by the third week of September.

Officials in the more than 200 towns have months to get their work done before warrant articles would appear at town meetings next March.

Based on McIntyre's experience in Massachusetts, "if it gets to the ballot, most approve it."

You can't predict how officials in each community will react to the idea, he observed.

"All politics is local so with every different board of aldermen, city council, selectmen, you have different questions, quirks, belief systems," McIntyre said.

"There was a city in Massachusetts that had a large population of bookmakers and was known for that. We were called in and selectmen there asked, 'How dare you expand gambling like this'? Then there was a liberal city and the president of the city council said directly to us, 'You are George Bush and Keno is the surge for the second Gulf War.' I had no answer to that."

He added: "You are going to see far worse things in any bar than people sitting around having a sandwich and a beer and betting against numbers coming up on a screen."

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