Lawmakers on track to expand keno to convenience stores and supermarkets

By: - March 25, 2022 9:18 am
lottery tickets

Only bars and restaurants sell keno tickets now. A bill would let stores join them – if their community had approved keno. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

There are approximately 220 places to buy a KENO 603 ticket in New Hampshire, all of them in bars or restaurants. That number could grow considerably under a bill passed by the Senate Thursday that would allow convenience stores and supermarkets to also sell the lottery tickets if their community has approved keno.

Currently, 91 cities and towns allow the game, played via a paper ticket, and Conway voters will consider approving it next month.

Rep. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican, said he sponsored House Bill 355, which already cleared the House, for two reasons: fairness and an estimated $6 million in new education funding.

Stores that sell other lottery tickets like Powerball and Mega Millions and scratch tickets are responsible for paying out winning keno tickets – work that goes uncompensated by the state. And there’s an incentive for selling KENO 603 tickets: stores would collect the same 8 percent sales commission bars and restaurants do.

New Hampshire Lottery Commissioner Charles McIntyre told a House committee that bars and restaurants selling keno tickets now take in an average $670 a day and keep about $50 of it. The state deposits 18 percent of keno ticket sales into the state’s education fund, said Maura McCann, lottery spokeswoman.

McIntyre told a Senate committee earlier this month that the state estimates expanding keno sales to stores and supermarkets would bring in $6 million a year. That will increase school aid without raising taxes, Lang said.

“It’s basically a voluntary tax,” he said. “If you don’t play, you don’t have to pay anything.”

There has been virtually no opposition to the bill. It passed the House and Senate on voice votes, and no one has spoken against it in legislative committee public hearings. Just one person registered opposition against it, according to the House’s website. 

Supporters include not only the NH Lottery but also the New Hampshire Grocers Association and the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association. Brian Moran, director of government affairs for the latter, said its members have voiced overwhelming support for the bill.

“You’ve got to have the ability first to do it,” he said. “This does that.”

Also on the list of supporters is Bob O’Keefe, owner of the O’Keefe General Store in Seabrook, among the first communities to approve keno after it was legalized in 2017.

“I think it will be a good thing,” he said. O’Keefe isn’t sure, however, if he’d opt for a screen showing live keno drawings, which happen every five minutes from about 11:05 a.m. to 1 a.m. The state provides displays, but the bill would allow stores to choose whether to have one.

“I don’t know if I want a lot of people to linger in my store (watching screens,)” O’Keefe said. “I’m a grab-and-go, fast-paced place. But I wouldn’t mind selling the tickets.”

Stores would be prohibited from selling keno tickets in communities that have rejected the game  or not yet approved it. That leaves another keno fan out of luck, at least for now. 

Dave McLaughlin, owner of McLaughlin’s Country Market in Concord, has sold lottery tickets at his store since opening it a year and a half ago. He’d like to add keno, which is played much as Powerball and Mega Millions are, but can’t because Concord voters rejected it.

“I don’t see any negative,” McLaughlin said. “Whatever the state can do to provide more funding for the schools, they should look at.”

McIntyre told lawmakers store owners would have to apply for a keno license and pay the $500 licensing fee to add the game. 

Lawmakers asked whether adding stores would take business away from the restaurants and bars currently selling tickets. 

Kevin Daigle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, doesn’t believe it would. 

“I don’t think that the person who is sitting in the bar is going to be compelled to no longer play keno (there) and go to the local supermarket to do it,” he said.

During each KENO 603 game, players choose from one to 12 numbers and can place a wager from $1 to $25 per game. A computer randomly generates 20 winning numbers from 1 to 80 every five minutes. The more numbers played and successfully matched, the greater the winnings.

If a store does not display the drawings on a screen, staff can check the ticket against the winning numbers and tell a player whether they won.


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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.