Gov. Tom Corbett didn’t talk about gambling in his budget address Tuesday, but his proposed budget includes $20 million in new revenue from the expansion of the Pennsylvania Lottery into Keno games.
Elizabeth Brassell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Lottery and Department of Revenue, said the introduction of Keno could be achieved through regulatory, rather than legislative means.
“Just as (the lottery) has in recent years increased the number of drawings … it has introduced new games like Match 6 Lotto and Treasure Hunt, the lottery believes that there is a regulatory process authorized under existing law that could allow for the introduction of Keno, which is simply another terminal-based game,” said Brassell.
She said the key to the lottery’s growth plan is permanent or long-term margin relief, which would require legislative action.
“By the law, the lottery has to return a certain percentage of sales to funding for senior programs," Brassell said. "Historically that has been 30 percent. We got a temporary relief from the 30 percent margin, and it’s down to 27 percent currently, but that expires at the end of the next fiscal year.”
Brassell said the lottery wants to see that margin reduced to 24 percent, and they want it to stay there. They believe that with the introduction of Keno, they can put more total money into social services for seniors while decreasing the percentage of revenue directed toward those programs.
Tom Shaheen, vice president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative policy research center, said Keno is one of the most dangerous games the state could pursue.
“Keno … by its very nature is a very addictive form of gambling,” said Shaheen. “It’s rapid fire with almost instant results.”
In the game, players place wagers on numbers between 1 and 80. In the traditional, in-person form of Keno, numbered balls are shot out of a circular glass bubble, similar to what happens in lottery drawings on television. In the electronic version, the computer displays winning numbers at random. Shaheen said the immediacy of the rewards in electronic Keno can contribute to gambling addictions.
Brassell said the lottery is currently looking to educate Pennsylvania’s about the growth initiatives available to the lottery.
“This is not the lottery’s issue to solve, this is not the administration’s issue to solve, this is the commonwealth’s issue to solve to address the needs of a growing senior population,” said Brassell.
But Shaheen said Pennsylvania needs to move away from gambling as a way to solve budget problems.
“It’s never going to be enough,” Shaheen said. “Once the state becomes involved in gambling, the state itself actually becomes addicted to gambling as a source of revenue … It’s a race to the bottom.”