UPDATED: House approves keno gambling for NH bars, restaurants and clubs
CONCORD — The Lottery Commission would add keno to its arsenal of games under a bill the House approved 202-141 Wednesday.
Under House Bill 485, the Lottery Commission would be able to install electronic keno games in bars, restaurants and clubs that serve alcohol. Keno is expected to generate about $9 million annually, with the money going to the Education Trust Fund to support local school districts.
Under the bill, communities would decide whether to allow keno, which is legal in 15 states and Washington, D.C.
“What is wagered in New Hampshire will stay in New Hampshire,” said Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, “unlike expanded casino gambling where what’s wagered in New Hampshire often ends up in Las Vegas.”
Opponents believe keno will move the state one step closer to video slot machines and casino gambling.
“Too often the money is taken from those who can most often least afford to lose it,” said Rep. Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth. “This will be local money pulled out of the local economy, not tourist money.”
In keno, players select from an 80-number card while a computer selects 20 winning numbers every six minutes, showing them on a video screen. Players can bet from $1 to $30, with higher payouts if the player selects a higher percentage of winning numbers.
The game would operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in about 250 establishments in the state. A person would have to be 18 or older to play.
The local restaurant, bar or club would retain 8 percent of gross stakes; the license is $500 per year. The lottery commission would receive 2 percent and Health and Human Services 1 percent for gambling addiction programs.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 152 which the House killed last year, and Senate Bill 366 another casino gambling bill before the Senate this year, said keno makes it more difficult to get approval for casinos.
“What it does is hinder our opportunity to put something in place that creates jobs and provides economic development to our communities,” he said last week.
The bill’s fate in the Senate may be hard to predict, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said.
It might be that “senators opposed to expanded gambling are likely to oppose keno,” Bradley said in a phone interview.
Bradley is reserving judgment on the Keno bill, though he says he is leaning against it.
State Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket, voted for the Keno bill Wednesday as a means to help small businesses.
“There’s definitely a consumer interest,” said Schroadter, referring to organizations like the VFW and the Polish American Club in Newmarket. “It doesn’t have that gambling, negative-kind of feel when you’re at these places and see people taking part.”
Schroadter, who owns The Stone Church in Newmarket, said he would consider taking out a license to conduct the games.
Union Leader Reporter Dan Tuohy contributed to this report.