The Bulletin Board

Compromise reached on bill that would allow store owners to sell keno tickets

By: - May 18, 2022 3:36 pm

The keno compromise bill will go before the full House and Senate next Thursday. Here, lottery tickets for sale at McLaughlin’s Country Market in Concord on March 23. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

It’s looking like good news for store owners who want to sell and not just cash in keno tickets. Currently only bars and restaurants can sell the tickets, which allow players to pick one to 12 numbers and wager $1 to $25. 

But in a compromise bill that will go before the full House and Senate next Thursday, retailers in the 91 communities that have approved keno could sell tickets, but they’d be prohibited from hanging a screen to display drawings and winning numbers.

Retailers and grocers have said House Bill 355 would draw in customers and compensate them for paying out winnings on tickets bought in bars and restaurants, currently the only establishments allowed to sell them. Supporters include the state Lottery Commission, the New Hampshire Grocers Association, and the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.

A disagreement over the displays nearly killed the bill Wednesday, with Senate negotiators insisting retailers be allowed to hang screens to display drawings, which happen every five minutes. One House member said some people dislike the look and insisted they be prohibited. 

In defending his position, Rep. Patrick Abrami, a Stratham Republican, acknowledged he, like other committee members, had heard no opposition to the bill. But he chalked up the silence to ignorance, not support.

“Most people have no idea what’s going on in the State House,” he said during a committee of conference meeting. “They have no idea.”

Abrami also said letting the bill fail would have little consequence.

“If we don’t pass this bill, not one of the businesses we are talking about is going to close. Not one,” he said. “This is such an infinitesimal amount of revenue it’s not going to matter. Keno alone isn’t going to bring any business in.” 

The state Lottery Commission estimated 700 retailers would opt to sell the tickets, each of which would have to apply and pay a $500 licensing fee. Earlier this year, Commissioner Charles McIntyre told House lawmakers that the bars and restaurants that sell tickets take in an average of $670 a day and keep about $50 of it. McIntyre estimated expanding keno sales to stores and supermarkets would bring an additional $6 million a year into the state’s education fund.

Sen. Gary Daniels, a Milford Republican, supported giving store owners the option of hanging a screen. He told Abrami it’s the Legislature’s job to create opportunities to establish and grow a business in New Hampshire. “I think that’s what we are trying to do with this bill here: trying to create an opportunity,” he said.

Rep. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican, introduced the bill last year with language to give store owners the option of using displays. He said he could live with the compromise prohibiting screens and, if re-elected, introduce legislation making them optional.

“I’m a believer in incrementalization,” he said during the committee meeting. “I’ll take something over nothing if my only option is nothing.”

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.

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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.