Keno compulsion

May 24, 1993

Maryland is getting the worst of everything from its decisio to heavily promote its keno electronic numbers game. The new game is sapping other lotteries of revenue and is coming up woefully short in meeting its own revenue goals. Even worse, keno has created new gambling addicts -- Marylanders who can't control their spending on this state-sponsored activity.

For these individuals the state's latest venture into legalized gambling is fomenting tragedy. In just four months, 35 anguished callers have telephoned the hot line set up by the National Center for Pathological Gambling in Baltimore to get help with their keno binges.

People's savings are being tossed away on keno, their lives are being ruined and some have even contemplated suicide. Is this gambling revenue so important to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other politicians in Annapolis that the welfare of so many state citizens must be sacrificed?

Keno isn't quite the bust that the lottery agency's "El Gordo" drawing turned out to be. That sad Christmas-time venture cost $16 million and results were so feeble that a second drawing was canceled. Keno's misfortunes, though, are large enough that it could come up 30 percent under revenue estimates.

That is a fiscal problem that technicians in the budget department can deal with. But who is going to help with the human toll from this fast-paced numbers game? No one in Annapolis wants to contemplate that aspect of state-sponsored gambling. All they want is the revenue.

Since the state is not only permitting keno but is also aggressively promoting it (the latest: a $500,000 advertising blitz to boost keno's fortunes), officials have an obligation to citizens harmed by this venture. Yet nothing is being done by the governor or by the legislature to mitigate the deleterious effects of keno. Meanwhile, the game is becoming ubiquitous as it is installed at more and more retail outlets throughout the state. With a new keno game every five minutes on a nearly round-the-clock basis, there is no limit to the havoc keno can create in people's lives.

Compulsive gambling is a sickness. It is tragic that the state is aiding and abetting in the proliferation of this illness among the citizens of Maryland. The dangers of keno are considerable, even if politicians in Annapolis don't want to admit it.

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