Keno makes some friends, empties some pockets

January 05, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer Staff writers Frank Langfitt, Lorraine Mirabella, Kerry O'Rourke, Karin Remesch, Frank Roylance and William Thompson contributed to this article.

Some were regular lottery players and sometime casino gamblers looking for more action. Others were simply curious or were out to kill a little time.

They were drawn together yesterday by the debut of Maryland's new keno lottery game.

A spot check of about a dozen of the 600 outlets around the state that began offering keno on its first day turned up a steady stream of players but no large crowds.

Players began wagering the first thing yesterday morning on the highly controversial state-run electronic bingo game.

At Langenfelder's Meats at Baltimore's Cross Street Market, Bernard Crowe, a 66-year-old retiree, was among about a dozen people playing the game at lunchtime. Mr. Crowe, who had $40 worth of lottery tickets in his pocket, said he had been playing keno since 7 a.m. and had lost "close to $200."

"I've had winners, but nothing that amounted to anything. I ain't got a good hit on it yet," he said.

Earlier, at Bud Paolino's in Highlandtown, John Miller and a couple of his friends each kicked in a buck and won a $75 payoff. As he nursed a beer, Mr. Miller, a 57-year-old ironworker, was going for a prize of $2,500.

"I like the speed of it. It's got some action," he said of keno, which features a new game every five minutes from 6 a.m. to mid

night.

As of late yesterday afternoon, the State Lottery Agency announced that it had exceeded its first-day projection of $125,000 in keno sales. "Our sales are brisk, and player and agent enthusiasm is very high," said Carroll H. Hynson Jr., the lottery's deputy director for public affairs.

The Lottery Agency has estimated that keno outlets would average $3,000 in sales during their first week in operation. With 600 outlets, that would equal $1.8 million in sales -- or an average of about $250,000 a day.

It was "too early to tell" what effect, if any, keno was having on the Lottery Agency's other games, he said.

To play keno, players choose 10 numbers from 1 to 80 on computerized game slips, which they attempt to match against the 20 the computer spits out for each game.

Players may choose to match as few as two or as many as 10 numbers in each game. Odds, and payoffs, depend on how many numbers -- or spots -- a player chooses to play per game. In a 1-spot game, for example, the odds of winning a prize are 1 out of 4 and the maximum prize on a $1 bet is $2. In a 10-spot game, the odds are 1 out of 9.05 and the maximum payoff is $100,000.

On the whole, the game returns 56 cents of each dollar to the players.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed the game in September as part of a plan to address a $450 million budget shortfall. But it has drawn a torrent of criticism from several of the state's top political figures upset that the contract to operate the game was awarded without competitive bidding and concerned about the state's reliance on increased gambling revenue.

In Ocean City, where officials have gone to court in an effort to halt keno, John and Mikell Lyons drove from their home in Bethany Beach, Del., just to play keno at Cadillac Jack's Bar and Grill on the Boardwalk. Mr. Lyons played seven games and won $60.

"That's it. We're out of here," he said.

Chris Mayo was sounding like she thought she never should have gotten started. She called off a trip to Atlantic City and settled in at the Corner Stable in Cockeysville to play keno with a friend. After dropping $12 in three bets during her first 15 minutes of play, she said, "I hope I learn to hate this game."

In Glen Burnie, a brief power interruption put the keno machine at O'Toole's Restaurant and a handful of other outlets temporarily out of commission yesterday morning -- one of the few apparent technical glitches on the game's opening day.

Some employees of keno outlets spent almost as much time teaching customers how to play keno as they did selling tickets.

At Hampstead Liquors, the only keno outlet in the North Carroll County town, manager Doug Eckard said the hardest thing about the new game is instructing players.

At Goldberg's Liquors in Brooklyn Park in Anne Arundel County, George E. Hopkins, 80, was surprised when store clerk Nancy Drake told him he had to fill out a game slip. Later, he asked if the winning numbers would be announced on television, as they are for the daily lottery drawings.

"No, this is every five minutes. They won't show this on television at all," Ms. Drake explained.

For some, unfamiliarity bred reluctance to play.

"I don't understand it. That's why I'm not playing it," said Angeline Schaefer, 60, who bought three Lotto tickets but no keno tickets at Santoni's Market in Highlandtown yesterday morning.

Others came to see what keno was all about.

"I just came in out of curiosity," said Kevin Brooks, 28, who lost $3 at the Water Street Exchange in downtown Baltimore and added, "I might do it again, but I'm not going to make it a habit."

Still others, while less than enthralled, found it a good way to kill time.

Wilson Everett, of Fallston, was trying out the new game at the Forest Hill Lanes bowling alley in Harford County while his wife underwent treatment at a physical therapist next door. He quickly dropped $2.

"I told you the odds aren't that great," he said. But as long as his wife has to go to the therapist three times a week, he said, he might as well come back to the bowling alley and try again. "Losing $2 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays isn't too bad for a retired guy," he chuckled.

Don Daniels echoed that sentiment on his chances of winning. The 48-year-old maintenance worker stopped in at the Homewood Deli in Charles Village before he went to work.

He bought 5 games for $10 and had yet to win a cent during the first three games.

"They're not very good," he said of the odds, as he sipped a cup of coffee and waited for the next series of numbers to appear on the video monitor. "But I'm playing because I like to gamble."

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