By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — New Hampshire would join Massachusetts in allowing keno gambling under a bill passed by a key House committee.
Ways and Means, which oversees tax policy, gave House Bill 485 strong backing on a 14-5 vote.
“Now, this will go to the House floor,” said Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, a member of the committee.
Projections anticipate $8 million in revenue the first year from keno, Azarian said.
“That is a very good revenue generator for the state at low cost to implement,” Azarian said.
State lottery officials assured the committee they could implement keno using existing systems at little cost to the state, he said.
Keno gambling would be allowed seven days a week, but restricted to businesses that sell alcohol, Azarian said.
The money would set aside 1 percent of revenue for treatment of problem gamblers, he said.
“This is the first time the state would earmark money to Health and Human Services for problem gamers,” Azarian said.
The bill is expected to get strong support among Southern New Hampshire lawmakers.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, had sponsored a keno study bill last session and said he would support passage.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Baldasaro said.
Revenues would go to education, as do lottery revenues, he said.
“I’m hoping it will offset the statewide property tax,” he said.
Baldasaro also likes the bill because it would keep keno out of neighborhood stores, something Massachusetts allows.
“That’s one part I didn’t want,” he said.
Baldasaro predicted the keno bill will get strong support from Southern New Hampshire lawmakers.
Reps. Mary Griffin, R-Windham, and Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, had co-sponsored Baldasaro’s study bill.
Besides Azarian, Rep. Norm Major, R-Plaistow, supported HB 485 in committee.
Azarian said Major has in past years opposed gambling expansion, so his support for the keno bill was important in committee.
Keno is a game of chance where players pick a series of numbers and match them against computer-generated “winning” numbers.
In Massachusetts, players can bet throughout the day. Players select one to 12 numbers, while the computer picks 20 different numbers between one and 80.
Massachusetts ranks first in the nation with $790 million in keno revenues.
Baldasaro said if New Hampshire becomes a keno state, that would keep some of those dollars at home, with players choosing to play at local businesses.
“In New Hampshire, that’s helping our restaurants and bars,” Baldasaro said.