Will Keno Kill Racing?

September 21, 1992

Gov. William Donald Schaefer seems to have jumped into the pool without first checking to see if there's any water in it. He's warmly embraced a plan to raise $50 million this fiscal year and at least $100 million next year by instituting a form of video-electronic bingo, or keno, to be known as "Quick Draw." But the insidious side-effects of this new legalized gambling XTC could prove far more damaging than the extra revenue it brings in.

This isn't simply another form of the ubiquitous instant, "rub-off" lottery or the daily or weekly lottery drawing. This is a high-tech form of gambling that amounts to creating hundreds of gaming parlors all across the state where bettors can wager on keno numbers every five minutes. It is gambling run amok, and one big step toward the creation of casino gambling in Maryland.

The director of the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore calls Quick Draw similar to crack cocaine because it is so instantaneous it will lure a growing number of Marylanders into an addictive gambling cycle. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee worries that, once again, poor people will wind up tossing their money away on another state-encouraged gambling venture.

And a leader of the horse-racing industry calls this video-gambling plan "devastating" because it could cut sharply into the number of dollars wagered at the tracks. For an industry that is already fighting a deep slump brought on by the recession, legalized keno couldn't have come at a worse time.

The governor's Quick Draw gamble also could render the new off-track betting law worthless. This was supposed to be a sure-fire way to enlarge the betting pool for the race tracks and help them survive the recession. But with video-electronic keno installed in restaurants, bars, pizza joints and bowling alleys, the appeal of OTB could fade rapidly. No one would be so foolish as to make such a big financial investment under those conditions.

Moreover, Quick Draw could reduce the money spent on other lotteries. This is alarming in the instant lottery games that underwrite the Maryland Stadium Authority. A big revenue drop could imperil the authority's ability to float new bonds.

Apparently top lottery officials were never consulted on the ramifications of this video bingo activity. It was promoted heavily by the lottery vendor, G-Tech. The $50 million revenue figure is a ballpark number; no detailed study has been done on the true implications. Will it harm Maryland's $1 billion a year racing industry? Will it simply reduce revenue from other lottery games? Will it hurt the Maryland Stadium Authority?

Before proceeding, Mr. Schaefer ought to step back and take a good look at the impact such a massive expansion of gambling would have in Maryland. Keno could be a killer.

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