Keno is a jackpot for state in its first week $3.26 million wagered is almost twice what was projected

January 12, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The state Lottery Agency has struck pay dirt with its first week of keno.

Marylanders wagered $3.26 million on the state's new electronic bingo game in its first seven days -- nearly double the lottery's own projections.

"It's a heck of a start. It locked in a lot more quickly than I thought," Marty Goldman, the agency's deputy director for marketing, said yesterday.

But Mr. Goldman cautioned that he was taking the first week's re

sults "with a grain of salt."

The "newness of the game" and the avalanche of publicity that preceded and accompanied its introduction Jan. 4 might have attracted a lot of "trial players," he said. In any case, the first week's figures were no reason to raise the agency's predictions that players would bet $155 million on keno in its first sixth months, generating $50 million for the state's coffers.

"I think our initial projections are solid. I would not alter them at all after one week of euphoria," he said.

While the initial sales figures were a pleasant surprise to lottery officials, they were an unhappy confirmation of the fears of some critics, who say keno appeals to compulsive gamblers.

"The amount of money that came in does not surprise me," said Valerie Lorenz, executive director of the locally based National Center for Pathological Gambling. "It's so readily available and features a win every five minutes that it will become much more addictive than other lottery games."

"What surprises me is that the governor, the legislature and the state lottery continue to fail to address the problems of compulsive gambling," she added.

In Oregon, where keno was introduced in September 1991, sales of the computer-generated numbers game were $1.5 million in the first week, about $1 million more than anticipated, said Oregon Lottery spokeswoman Marlene Meissner. Sales then grew to $2.5 million per week within four months, before leveling off to the current level of $2 million per week following the introduction of video poker.

But sales comparisons between the states may not be entirely valid, since Oregon installed keno mostly in existing lottery outlets, while Maryland is offering the game in several hundred ,, new locations.

Keno's debut in Maryland bars, restaurants and bowling alleys had virtually no effect on the instant, daily and weekly lottery drawings, according to figures released by the agency. The top selling keno outlet in the state last week was the Firehouse Tavern on Joppa Road in Carney, which sold $24,220 worth of keno tickets. The Firehouse had to hire two people just to staff the keno terminal, said owner Harry Cohen, while food and beverage revenues grew substantially because of increased foot traffic.

"I don't know what's going to happen after six months. Sales may go flat. But let's giggle while we can," he said. The lottery had predicted first-week sales would average $3,000 for each of the nearly 600 outlets that began offering keno Jan. 4. Instead, sales averaged nearly $6,000 per outlet.

Plans call for the lottery to add 400 keno outlets by the end of the month and to have 1,800 outlets offering the game by the end of June.

Of the state's top 15 keno outlets, none were in Baltimore and three were in affluent Montgomery County -- a fact Mr. Goldman, the lottery deputy director, cited as evidence the lottery was reaching the kind of new, upscale player it is seeking with the game.

Overall, Montgomery County accounted for 16.6 percent of the first week's keno sales, second only to Baltimore County's 18.3 percent. Baltimore was third with 15.9 percent of sales and Prince George's County was fourth with 14.8 percent. Before the introduction of keno, Baltimore accounted for 27.3 percent of all lottery sales, while Montgomery County had only 7.6 percent. Now with keno part of the mix, Baltimore's share was 24.8 percent last week while Montgomery's was 9.1 percent.

But at the Anchor Inn in Wheaton, which sold the most keno tickets in Montgomery County, there was a 30 percent drop-off yesterday from the dollar volume of tickets sold a week ago, said owner Bill Scaggs.

"Long-term, I don't expect it to be any great shakes. I expect it to be something to provoke mild interest," Mr. Scaggs said.

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