Lawmaker trying again on keno

December 28, 2018

Another state lawmaker is attempting to continue State Sen. Sonny Borrelli’s push for a new lottery game for Arizona.

A new bill proposed for the 2019 session by Arizona State Senator-elect Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, could possibly have the popular casino game keno coming to the state lottery if passed.

The bill proposes to lift a ban on state-run keno as a way to raise money without raising taxes. Keno is a game, often using a video screen, where a player can select multiple numbers, hoping to match numbers picked by a computer system.

Ugenti-Rita’s bill is similar to a bill pushed in the 2018 legislative session by Borrelli. It was later supported by Gov. Doug Ducey, but it failed to pass because of its potential to violate the state’s gaming compact set in 2002 that gives Arizona Tribes exclusive rights to operate casino-style games, according to Borrelli. “My argument has always been the state lottery existed prior to the gaming compact,” Borelli said. “But we ended up running into the fact the tribes believe they have a monopoly over all gaming. I haven’t read (Ugenti-Rita’s) bill, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same as mine because only the state lottery is able to do this kind of thing.”

Capitol Media Services reported in April that Gov. Ducey considered lifting the ban to help finance his plan to increase teacher pay. Reports from Ducey’s office said the game could generate as much as $15 million a year.

Borrelli says the state should be able to lift the ban because the game is operated in a similar fashion to other lottery games, such as Powerball.

“All of the lottery games are basically the original game of keno,” Borelli said. “It’s the same concept. The only thing that’s different is keno is played more frequently. The state of California has a game called the California Hot Spot and it’s basically keno, but the state gets $250 million from that one game.”

If the bill passes, a keno subaccount would be established within the state lottery fund consisting of Arizona’s share of revenue from keno games. The revenue would then be transferred by the State Treasurer into Arizona’s general fund as described in the bills literature.

The ability for the revenue to go into the states general fund is a win because according to Borelli, grades Kindergarten through 12th grade or not beneficiaries of the state lottery. Only higher education is. Those funds going in the general fund, however, could be used toward K-12 among other things.

However, Borelli said it will be tough for the bill to pass with pushback from the tribes and not everybody in the house on the same page.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Borelli said. “The Democrats will vote no because they will be siding with the tribes. Some members of the house don’t believe in gaming at all, even though there are 50-50 raffles at sporting events and we also have off-track betting and stuff like that.

“I’d like to see (Ugenti-Rita’s) bill become successful. Even if it’s identical to the bill I did the last session, I fully support it. I don’t care who gets the credit as long as we get the mission accomplished.”

Ugenti-Rita didn’t immediately return phone calls on Thursday.

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