Keno popularity grows

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By Calen McKinney



He didn't win last Thursday. But the day before, luck turned his pocket change into $25.

"It paid for his food and he got his money back," Happy Days Owner Theresa Wisdom said.

Happy Days became a Keno retailer in November. Since then, the game has grown in popularity.

Wisdom said some customers play while they eat, but others come in specifically to see if the day will be a lucky one for them.

According to the Kentucky Lottery website, www.kylottery.com, Happy Days is the only place residents can play Keno in Taylor County.

There are no retailers offering Keno in Adair or Green counties. There are two in Marion County, one in LaRue County and a cashing agent in Casey County.

Wisdom said Keno is similar to bingo. Those who are age 18 can play. Players pick one to 10 numbers and try to match them to 20 numbers drawn from a field of 80. Players can win anywhere from $1 to $100,000 on a $1 play.

At Happy Days, employees sell tickets and players watch an electronic terminal to see if they have won.

Wisdom said players at her restaurant have won more than $100 in a single play. Other winners have taken home anywhere from $75 to $25.

In November, the state's Government Contract Review Committee voted to approve a contract amendment for lottery vendor GTECH that would allow Keno to be played at restaurants and bars in Kentucky.

Taylor County's senator, State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, is the Senate chair for the committee. She said she voted against the contract amendment because state legislators weren't given any input into the changes.

Nevertheless, she said, the contract was approved. Several people spoke against the contract amendment, she said, and some threatened to file lawsuits challenging the legality of offering Keno. But Gregory said, to her knowledge, no lawsuits have been filed yet.

Gregory said those opposed to allowing Keno have said it changes the scope of what the lottery offers.

Revenue from Keno, she said, goes into the lottery's pool of money, some of which is used to pay for scholarships.

Wisdom said officials targeted businesses like hers to become Keno retailers.

"It was developed for a restaurant, bar-type atmosphere," she said. "I happened to be one of them."

She said she wanted to offer the game as a way to entice people to come to her business, as well as give people a chance to win some money.

"We want to fill up the seats," she said. "I'm trying to figure out a way to stay in business. It's hard."

Keno has become popular among regular customers, Wisdom said, some who come in once or twice a day. And employees enjoy playing, too, she said.

To become a Keno retailer, Wisdom said, she had to complete an application and background check. The application process costs $350, she said, and retailers have to pay a $15.95 a month satellite fee to show the electronic drawings.

Wisdom said her business can pay winnings of as much as $600. If someone wins more than that, she said, they must go to Kentucky Lottery offices and pay taxes on their winnings.

Happy Days receives 5 percent of Keno sales at the restaurant and 1 percent of the winnings. In order for Happy Days to recoup the $15.95 satellite fee a month, Wisdom said, $300 worth of Keno tickets must be sold each week.

"And so far it's paying for itself," she said. "As long as it pays for itself, I'll keep it."

The response to the game has been postive, Wisdom said. Wisdom said Keno has become very popular in Las Vegas, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

"We've had some winners," she said. "We have people come in every day and play. There's a drawing every five minutes."

Wisdom said she would love to see people win big at her restaurant.

"And I also want to change people's lives," she said. "If they would win $100,000 at Happy Days, I know I have changed their lives."

But not everyone has been pleased with the game. Wisdom said she has heard some people say, "Oh that's gambling, I'm not gonna do this."

And Wisdom said some convenience store employees have expressed their unhappiness with Keno being allowed at only restaurants and bars in the state.

"They felt like they're losing some of their lottery business," she said.

But Wisdom said her business can't sell Kentucky lottery tickets, while convenience stores in the state can.

The reasoning behind Keno being offered at restaurants and bars, Wisdom said, is pretty simple.

"They can sit there and watch their numbers hit," she said. "The ones that are coming in to play are having a good time."

Expanded Gaming

While Keno is now legal in the state, expanded gaming isn't.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's effort to bring expanded gaming to Kentucky is continuing, though Gregory said it wasn't mentioned specifically during last week's legislative meetings.

Gregory said Beshear mentioned it in his annual address about the state's budget, which legislators must create this year. However, she said, his proposed budget doesn't include revenue from expanded gaming.

Gregory and State Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, spoke out against the gaming during a political forum with Taylor County constituents last Monday.

"I've seen what gaming does to families," Carney said. "The social costs are far greater than any revenue the state may gain."

Wisdom said she is in favor of expanded gaming.

"I think it'd be great. Keep the money in Kentucky. We need money."