PORTSMOUTH – City councilors in Portsmouth voted unanimously to put Keno on the November ballot during their meeting Monday night.
Two years ago, when the program was rolling out, councilors rejected the request of New Hampshire Lottery Commission officials to put the betting game to a public vote. Many of them said at the time that there had been no local interest.
On Monday, Kelley-Jaye Cleland, who is the director of sales and product development for the lottery commission, said since that time they have heard from Portsmouth businesses that are frustrated people are leaving the city to play Keno in other communities where it is allowed.
“There is a lot of interest, and I think there was some frustration it wasn’t on the ballot last time,” Cleland said.
Cleland said Keno is currently allowed in 191 locations and needs to reach 250 to meet the projections to fund full-day kindergarten in the state.
Portsmouth schools benefit from monies raised by Keno.
During public comment, resident George Remick said councilors should allow the residents to decide if there should be Keno in the city.
“Let them be the judge whether they want it or not,” Remick said.
Michael Griffin, who is an officer at the local Elks Club, said they could use the money generated by Keno to help benefit charities in the area, calling the game a “win-win” for the Elks and Portsmouth city schools.
“I think it’s in the city’s best interest and I ask for your support,” Griffin said.
Business owners, including Eli Sokorelis of The Statey Bar and Grill and Aaron Jones of Mojo’s, spoke in favor of putting Keno on the ballot.
During discussion, Councilor Chris Dwyer said she does not think Keno is the answer to funding kindergarten, but she is not opposed to putting it on the ballot.
“I think it’s terrible public policy to try and support kindergarten by gambling of any type,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer also said the Elks and other organizations should not try to rely on gambling dollars to support charitable causes.
Mayor Jack Blalock and councilors Josh Denton and Nancy Pearson spoke in favor of putting Keno on the ballot. Pearson reversed her 2017 position.