Lawmakers from both political parties are trying to prevent Gov. Paul LePage's administration from bringing keno to Maine this spring, arguing Monday that such a significant expansion of gambling requires legislative approval.
A bill before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee seeks to halt the lottery commission's plans to join 15 states that offer keno, in which players choose from a pool of 80 numbers and 20 winning numbers are drawn every four minutes.
The Republican governor's administration contends that it has the authority to approve keno, which it says is similar in many ways to draw games that the lottery already offers.
But Rep. Louie Luchini, who introduced the bill, said the fast-paced nature of keno makes it different from Pick 3 and Pick 4 games, which select winners twice a day. Luchini and other lawmakers said they also are concerned about keno being offered in restaurants, where children are present, as well as bars, and questioned whether it could lead to more compulsive gambling.
"Perhaps these are warranted, perhaps not," the Democratic co-chairman of the committee said. "At the very least, such an expansion of gambling should be subject to the legislative process."
Linwood Higgins, a lobbyist for the Maine Harness Horsemen's Association, urged lawmakers to put a halt to keno, saying he fears it would be another blow to the industry, which has suffered revenue losses each time a new form of gambling has been introduced in the state.
Richard Rosen, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said he doesn't believe keno would have a significant impact on existing gambling facilities. Success in other states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, proves that keno is "good for players, for retailers playing keno and the state," Rosen said.
The game is expected to generate $5.5 million in gross sales in the second full year after it is implemented, although 62 percent of those revenues would be paid back to players in prizes, Rosen said. The lottery currently brings in about $225 million in gross sales, with about $50 million being sent to the state's general fund.
Several lawmakers were critical of the administration for not seeking legislative approval before moving forward with its plan. Republican Sen. Scott Cyrway, who co-chairs the committee with Luchini, said not giving the public a chance to weigh in before introducing keno would amount to "blindsiding the state."
The committee didn't vote on the bill Monday.
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