By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — The House approved keno gambling for New Hampshire yesterday on a strong vote, 202-141.
House Bill 485 now advances to the Senate.
Gov. Maggie Hassan hasn’t ruled out accepting keno gambling. Last week, her spokesman said she would be reviewing the bill as it moves through the Legislature.
Acceptance of gambling expansion came less than a year after the House turned down casino gambling. The House will debate casino gambling again later this session.
The bill would place keno under regulation by the state Lottery Commission and license terminals in bars, restaurants and clubs that sell alcohol.
Unlike neighboring Massachusetts, the New Hampshire proposal would keep keno out of neighborhood stores.
Proponents said an estimated $9 million to $10 million annually in keno revenue would benefit the state.
“Nine million (dollars) is a lot of money,” Rep. Harry Young, D-Jaffrey, said.
But Rep. Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth, said officials hadn’t considered any potential effects of keno.
“The state has not really studied the community impact,” Cooney said.
She warned keno would suck money out of the local economy and lead to larger games with bigger stakes.
Cooney appealed to lawmakers to wait until resolving the casino issue.
Young countered that New Hampshire has gambling now.
“We have a lot of it,” he said.
Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, said keno would be very regulated under the Lottery Commission and would help the state’s restaurants.
He said it would keep money spent at keno venues in Massachusetts in New Hampshire instead.
There is no question money is flowing out of New Hampshire and into Massachusetts now, he said.
“That is very unlike New Hampshire,” Abrami said.
Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and 11 other states now offer keno.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said it wasn’t just restaurants that would benefit.
He said veterans organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans support keno.
“They want this in their posts,” Baldasaro said.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, warned that because keno would be allowed where alcohol is sold, people could be playing under the influence.
He also saw keno as a big change for gambling in the state.
“This is a massive expansion of gambling,” Vaillancourt said.
Proponents said the bill would set aside 1 percent of keno revenue for treatment of problem gamblers.
The Lottery Commission would oversee development of keno rules and regulation.
Keno is a game of chance in which players pick a series of numbers they hope will match computer-generated winning numbers.
In Massachusetts, players select one to 12 numbers, while the computer picks 20 different numbers between one and 80.
Players can bet throughout the day. Massachusetts ranks first in the nation with $790 million in keno revenues.