The majority leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly Wednesday said they support repealing Keno, a bingo-style gambling game that legislators approved last year when facing a deficit to generate new revenue for the state.
“I don’t think anyone was overly enthusiastic about Keno in the first place, but we had a budget deficit and a hole to fill,” House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, told reporters after first raising the issue to town leaders during a morning forum in Cromwell.
“I think it’s well known I have never been a fan of Keno. If we have the resources now to forgo Keno, that’s fine with me,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr.
The state budget adopted last year relies on $27 million in revenue for the fiscal year that begins July 1 from the games that were set to begin being offered in bars and restaurants throughout the state.
The revisions Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recommended to the current biennium budget still relies on Keno proceeds.
However, eliminating the game would not put a huge strain on the state budget. The governor’s recommended budget has a built-in, $22 million surplus, so a repeal would mean that lawmakers would be left with a $5 million budget hole to close.
Malloy told reporters last week that it’s the legislature’s call.
“Keno wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t in my budget [proposed last year]. It does raise revenue. Some people want it. Some people don’t want it. You know, the legislature’s got a job to do and this was not done by me. So, we’ll do whatever we are asked to do and effect it appropriately,” the Democratic governor told reporters.
Malloy echoed those comments Wednesday. “Keno ended up in the budget, not at my suggestion,” he said.
In a press release titled, “Speaker to push for repeal,” Sharkey said the decision to add Keno to the budget was mutually agreed upon between legislators and the governor.
“There was never really a groundswell of support for Keno, it was simply a revenue option that was put on the table during budget negotiations at the time and was acceptable to the governor,” he said.
Republican legislators, the minority in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, said they saw this reversal coming.
“Expanding gambling is not good for economic development in our state or for our budget,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, a candidate for governor. “I think we all know they put it in the budget to make the numbers balance on paper.”
“It was a stop-gap to make the budget work. It was suspect from the beginning,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a veteran lawmaker on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.