Cutting Corners on Keno

December 22, 1992

Keno, described by the Lottery Agency's marketing department as "a fun, easy to understand and entertaining lottery game," is turning out to be anything but fun for some lottery agents who are being strong-armed to offer this fast-paced game of chance. The Schaefer administration's haste in bringing keno to Maryland -- regardless of adverse consequences -- has led to unseemly marketing practices and an appalling failure to conduct criminal-background checks on new lottery agents.

State lottery officials admit to pressuring existing agents who don't want to offer keno by reminding them they could lose their franchises. Prospective keno locations are being hit with a "very aggressive" marketing pitch suggesting that they would lose customers if they don't sign up. Lottery officials are so frantic to have 600 keno sites by Jan. 4 that the normal criminal-background security checks have been suspended.

Is this any way to run a government gambling operation that is supposed to be above reproach?

Of course not. The Lottery Agency is circumventing so many established procedures it raises questions about propriety. Not only is "Club Keno" a seductive electronic video gaming system played once every five minutes, 18 hours a day, but it is being implemented in such a hurry that safeguards designed to protect the public are ignored.

No wonder the mayor and city council of Ocean City went to court yesterday to halt keno. This game could badly damage that resort town's family image. It also has the potential of opening up Maryland to other types of gambling that frequently attract sinister elements. How can the state act as the moral and legal barrier to such elements when it is setting such a bad example itself?

We urge Gov. William Donald Schaefer to reassess this rush to take this electronic gamble. Maryland's improving economy should generate enough new tax money to eliminate the immediate need for keno. Let's slow down the process so proper criminal background checks can be made on all keno applicants, so lottery officials don't have to use high-pressure tactics to get the game under way so quickly and so legislators and others can examine the ramifications of sanctioning this game.

Keno should not be used as a quick revenue fix. There are too many unanswered questions.

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