Keno critics grow

January 04, 1993

Add state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein to the growing list o critics who are lining up in opposition to keno, the new gambling game that began today at 600 locations in Maryland. And 1st District Rep. Wayne Gilchrest. And the Talbot County Council. It's the wrong way to raise public revenue, they all agree.

Keno is a fast-paced, highly addictive form of electronic gambling. The state features a new drawing every five minutes, from 6 o'clock in the morning till midnight. Two hundred sixteen drawings a day. In bars, restaurants, pizza joints and bowling alleys. Young people are bound to play it. So are tavern patrons who have had too much to drink. And people who can't afford to be lured into a money-losing game of chance.

As Talbot County Council President Clinton S. Bradley III said in explaining his group's opposition to keno, "All of us think there's some danger in having these kinds of machines in places where people drink. They could blow their whole weekly paycheck."

Meanwhile, Ocean City's council and mayor worry that keno could destroy that town's carefully cultivated family image. Underage gambling could quickly turn into an unwelcome epidemic in Ocean City during summer months.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has posed these unanswered questions: What are the social costs of keno? What could be the impact on other businesses in Maryland?

Yet Gov. William Donald Schaefer is determined to harvest the keno fields. Six hundred locations today, 1,800 locations by July and over 4,000 locations by the following July. Keno is just the first step: Once this game takes hold, the electronic terminals can handle a variety of other gambling.

The growing number of opponents to keno indicates that Marylanders may finally have reached the saturation point on gambling. Another indication of this trend is the public's lukewarm reception for the el Gordo lottery drawing, with its $5 tickets and $10 million grand prize.

Instead of raising the $10 million in profits projected by the Schaefer administration, el Gordo will barely break even. When all expenses are tallied, the game might actually end up a money-loser.

Marylanders and elected officials are sending the governor a message. They don't want the addictive kinds of gambling such as keno or the ultra-long shot odds of $5 el Gordo tickets.

If revenues must be raised, the governor should revert to old-fashioned ways, such as proposing fee increases and tax hikes. He could even get serious about downsizing government. Keno is not the answer.

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