May 25, 2018
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Maine looks to expand gambling

By Mal Leary, Maine Public

AUGUSTA, Maine — It’s all things gambling at the State House as lawmakers look to ways to raise more state revenue without raising taxes.

“This session is all about money,” said Rep. Stacy Fitts, R-Pittsfield, a member of the Legislature’s Legal Affairs and Veterans Services committee, the panel with oversight of gambling legislation. “If we can find something that brings in more money, it will be considered.”

On Monday the panel heard about keno, a game used by several states.

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Lottery Director Dan Gwadosky presented them with options concerning implementation of keno games in the state. keno is an online game that would work much like Powerball and Megabucks, but the drawing of winning numbers occurs every 10 minutes or so, instead of a couple of times a week like the existing online games.

“The amount a person can win depends on how much has been wagered,” Gwadosky said. “And the target audience is a bit different.”

The game is aimed at social gathering areas, like restaurants and bars, where a video display would allow patrons to check to see if they have a winning ticket.

Thirteen states now have keno games as part of their state lottery operations, and Gwadosky estimated a Maine keno game would have sales of $8.4 million in the first year, yielding about $2.4 million for the state. That is based on bets ranging from $1 to $20. By the third year of operations, sales and revenues are expected to more than double.

“I want to be clear that this presentation is made at your request,” he said. “This is not what we are proposing; this is not being advanced by the administration.”

Rep. Pamela Trinward, D-Waterville, said she requested the information because the Lottery Commission operations have been providing more revenue to the state than Hollywood Slots. She said the panel should explore options as part of its oversight of gambling.

“I wanted this committee to be brought up to speed on keno and what it is,” she said. “I really had no idea what it is as I did research on gambling.”

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said while it was fine for the committee to get useful information, she was upset the materials Gwadosky circulated had a Scientific Games logo as well as the Maine State Lottery logo.

“They are one of the vendors that may bid on this,” she said, “I think it is improper for their logo and the lottery logo to appear on information given to a committee.”

Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, worried how much “cannibalism” would occur if a keno game were added. She said a previous report had indicated Hollywood Slots had affected lottery revenues in the Bangor area.

“There is only so much money to go around,” Gwadosky said. “So there would be some loss, probably to other online games. That $8 million number is really a conservative number because we have not done a study of what a game like this would do.”

The committee also was scheduled to hold a work session on a bill that would allow more gambling by nonprofits. Dozens of representatives of groups that might be affected by the bill filled the hearing room.

The measure would allow operation of video gaming terminals by nonprofit organizations that are already eligible for games of chance licenses and are also exempt from federal taxation. That category includes charitable organizations, civic leagues, fraternal benefit societies, domestic fraternal societies and veterans organizations.

It would allow up to five video terminals with a maximum bet of $5 and the maximum payout of $1,250. Under the bill the licensee would get 90 percent of the net terminal income, with 8 percent to cover state administrative expenses, municipal revenue sharing and Public Education Fund revenue. Two percent would be set aside for the Compulsive Gambler Rehabilitation Fund.

But, after breaking for partisan caucuses to discuss the measure, the committee never did meet again to discuss the legislation. The co-chairs announced a work session on that bill for Wednesday morning.

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