O'Reilly says his panel is firmly 'against keno'

February 03, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said yesterday that his panel wants to kill keno, but it needs help from other committees to find the spending cuts necessary to make up for the lost revenues.

The comments by Thomas P. O'Reilly came after the committee held its hearing on bills that would abolish or limit the state's new electronic lottery game.

"We've taken a straw vote that shows the committee is strongly against keno," the Prince George's County Democrat said. "But we are not going to take a symbolic action. We would only do that if we know we can balance the state budget without the keno money."

Mr. O'Reilly said that would involve working with other committees to find savings in next year's budget to make up for the loss of the keno revenues -- estimated by the Schaefer administration at $100 million and by the legislature's financial analysts at $50 million.

Coupling a keno-killing bill with budget cuts could give the proposal a better chance of survival in the House, where keno's revenue-raising power has stifled opposition to the game. The Senate hearing yesterday was on four bills: one that would kill keno immediately, one that would end it in October 1994, another that would stop it if the state budget can be balanced without it, and one that would keep the game out of Ocean City, where the city government has sued the state over the issue.

"The bill-drafters of our state have never been worn out by me," Sen. C. Bernard Fowler, D-Calvert, sponsor of the bill that would end keno in 1994, said of his 11 years in the Senate.

"When I do introduce a bill, it is something I feel strongly about. Most have dealt with serious pollution problems," Mr. Fowler told the committee. "This bill is yet another that attempts to halt the spread of pollution, not in our air and water, but in the hearts and minds of our citizens."

Sen. J. Lowell Stolzfus, D-Somerset, spoke on behalf of his bill to prohibit keno in Ocean City. "Ocean City is a well-managed, thriving family resort," Mr. Stolzfus said. "One reason is because of a key decision to keep gambling out."

Testifying for his bill to kill the game immediately, committee member Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery County, called keno "the defining issue" of the 1993 session.

"More than any other, it will tell the country what kind of state we want Maryland to be. Do we want to be more like Nevada? Do we want to be more like New Jersey? I don't think so," Mr. Denis said.

"This is casino gambling. Make no bones about it. And if it's wrong for Ocean City, it is wrong for the state of Maryland."

That testimony was countered by William F. Rochford, director of the State Lottery Agency, who said that keno is part of the continuing evolution of numbers games that has gone on since the state first introduced a lottery 20 years ago.

His figures showed that, counting the dropoff in the play of other games, keno is currently bringing in $2.8 million in additional revenue per week.

Noting that lottery revenue suffered a severe dropoff two years ago when the state altered a popular game, Mr. Rochford raised the possibility that it could cost the state over $100 million in lost play if keno is tampered with.

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