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Manchester latest to let voters decide on legalizing Keno

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 16. 2017 1:43AM

 MANCHESTER — The state's largest city Tuesday night became the latest one where policy makers decided that voters should determine whether to legalize Keno.

All 12 members of the Manchester Board of Aldermen present and voting favored the citywide referendum on allowing electronic bingo-like games at bars and restaurants that will appear on the ballot this November.

Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur and Ward Alderman Tommy Katsiantonis abstained from voting because both of them own restaurants that could have Keno.

“I own a restaurant and if Keno got passed, I would like to have Keno in my restaurant,” Levasseur said. “I just don't think the optics looks good for an alderman who definitely would, if it got passed, financially benefit.”

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he supported letting the voters weigh in this fall.

“I don’t see why the aldermen would fail to put it on the ballot. Let’s see what the voters think,” Gatsas said.

New Hampshire Lottery Executive Director Charles McIntyre estimated Manchester could net for the state $1.3 million in profit from the game if voters approve it.

“This is a two-step process. You put it on the ballot and then the citizens vote,” McIntyre said. “It is the most rigorous process for Keno in the country that I am aware of.”

McIntyre stressed that the games will only be played in “pouring establishments” and only in areas where alcohol is sold.

“It will only be sold in a bar area where they are actively serving liquor,” McIntyre said.

On ballot elsewhere

Meanwhile on Monday, the Concord City Council voted unanimously to put the Keno question on the ballot in that city’s November referendum.

Legalizing Keno was meant by lawmakers to provide financial support for school districts that adopt full-day, public kindergarten. Until this point, New Hampshire’s state budget gave communities $1,800 per student to represent the cost of a half-day program.

But under the full-day kindergarten law Gov. Chris Sununu signed last spring, communities with full-day kindergarten will get an extra $1,100 per student, whether those towns or cities adopt Keno or not.

As Keno revenues increase, grants for full-day programs could rise up to $1,800 per student, which would approximate the total cost a city or town facing giving five-year-olds a complete day in school.

None of the money raised locally by Keno stays in the community; instead it all goes to the Education Trust Fund that supports state grants for school districts.

Public kindergarten advocates came up with the legal scheme after many in the Republican-led House of Representatives, including House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, were skeptical about devoting more state budget money for full-day kindergarten.

So they decided to link kindergarten with Keno, the only form of expanded gambling that had won support in the House several times over the past half dozen years.

Until this spring, Keno had never come to pass because the State Senate had insisted that legalizing casino gambling had to be part of any expansion.

A bipartisan group of senators dropped that demand during the 2017 session after Sununu proposed full-day kindergarten in the state budget proposal he first offered last February.

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