By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Heads up, North Carolinians. Your state lottery officials are intent on finding more and better ways to help separate you and your hard-earned paycheck. The latest idea, setting up keno games in restaurants and bars, would not only blur the line between the lottery and casino style gambling, but would help create more gambling addicts and lure new players to a game that even promoters admit is the king of rip-offs.
“Definitely run away from this game,” advises Casino Detroit Magazine, which labels keno “Worst Bet #1” and explains that it involves the highest percentage hold of any casino game.
“It uses a technology that some experts refer to as a ‘high-tech version of loaded dice,'” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “And it’s designed to get users to ‘play to extinction,’ which means its purpose is to take all the user’s money.”
Members of the North Carolina Lottery Commission watched a demonstration of keno early this week and heard from Alice Garland, the lottery’s executive director, that if they choose to add keno, the goal would be to “sign up a whole new set of retailers” and introduce a new game to a “whole new set of folks.”
“What we’d like to do here is get a lot of people playing a little bit, not a few people paying a lot,” Garland told the media.
Unfortunately, that’s not the track record for games like keno.
The National Gambling Impact Study Committee reported a New York survey showing compulsive gambling problems among 9 percent of lottery players and 14 percent of keno players.
“The study also concluded that keno in particular fosters addiction,” the committee reported.
Not surprising when you consider the fast paced nature of the game, in which new numbers come up roughly every four minutes.
“Approximately 60 percent of the revenue garnered from this kind of gaming comes from problem gamblers,” Dr. Creech said. “Proponents may argue that playing keno would be a matter of personal freedom because it is a voluntary act. But such gaming is dependent on addicted and heavily indebted citizens and it only works if our government, in its role as promoter and regulator, actually takes away the freedom of its people.”
He said it is “grossly immoral for the state to partner and actively promote a program that renders some of its fellow citizens as expendable.”
In fact, if the North Carolina Lottery moves ahead to add keno, an idea the Commission will likely take up at its June meeting, it will be heading down the same path as many other troubled state lotteries.
“Once established, the various state lotteries have followed similar paths…the state begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the lottery in size and complexity, particularly in the form of adding new games,” reports the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. “Revenues typically expand dramatically after the lottery’s introduction, then level off, and even begin to decline. This ‘boredom’ factor has led to the constant introduction of new games to maintain or increase revenues.”
North Carolina’s so-called “Education” Lottery, which brought $446.9 million into state coffers last year, bumped up education spending for about two years after its inception in 2006. But since then a declining percentage of funds has gone to the classroom and, according to a Justice Center report issued last fall, the Tar Heel state now spends less on education than it did even before the state went into the gaming business.
“It is exceedingly unfortunate that a few years ago North Carolina state government decided to partner with the gambling industry. Together they have created a new class of people in our state — the Lottery Class,” Dr. Creech said. “For decades in this state, people were committed to such virtues as saving and investing money in retirement accounts, college funds for their children, etc. But now state government is turning many of its citizens who are small earners with the potential to be small savers into a class of habitual bettors — a group we would call the Lottery Class.”
According to the Consumer Federation of America, for the first time in American history, 1 in 5 Americans believes the best way to achieve long term financial security is to play the lottery.
“That’s tragic. And for our state to compound this problem by offering the most predatory form of lottery play is nothing less than catastrophic,” Creech added.
The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, which has successfully battled the introduction of keno there, reports evidence from other states that when keno gets a foothold in a state lottery, other electronic games follow. After introducing keno, Massachusetts expanded it to include a Daily Race Game. The Ohio lottery is now using flashy ads to encourage community groups to have keno parties.
Furthermore, at least three states have ruled that keno is a casino game and not allowable as part of a lottery. Certainly, its use of a video screen to reveal numbers would give it the feel of video poker and help lure in players.
“Casinos now offer a ‘ways’ bet, or video keno as a means to draw in uneducated gamblers,” writes Gayle Mitchell in Casino Detroit Magazine. “These optional bets do not increase your odds, nor change the fact that the house edge is still 25 percent. This truly is a no-win game.”