The Massachusetts State Lottery revs up a new Keno game this week that gives gamblers the chance to place $1 bets on animated stock-car races, complete with roaring engines and spectacular crashes.
The Daily Race Game will be tested at five locations with plans to expand to 200 over the next eight weeks, and ultimately to 1,300 establishments. The game, the first expansion of Keno since it launched in 1993, is being confined to bars and restaurants with Lottery licenses that serve liquor.
Race car Keno is expected to generate $36 million to $40 million a year when fully deployed, less than a third of what the Lottery was forecasting for a similar horse-racing game in 2005. The horse-racing game was derailed when officials from the state's real horse-racing industry complained that the cartoon version could hurt their business.
State Treasurer Timothy Cahill , whose office oversees the Lottery, said animated race cars won't generate as much revenue as animated race horses because people are already familiar with betting on horses. But he is hoping the new game will attract new gamblers and do better than the conservative forecasts.
"We're pushing really hard because we don't want to have a down year," Cahill said.
Revenue through the end of March, or the first nine months of the Lottery's current fiscal year, was $3.38 billion, down 2.3 percent compared to last year. Keno revenue, which accounts for nearly 18 percent of total revenue, was up $3.3 million, or 0.6 percent.
Lottery officials say they are exploring adding other games as well, including a play-along bingo show on television. Players would purchase game cards from Lottery vendors, play along at home, and return their cards to claim prizes. Cahill said no decision has been made on the bingo show .
"There's no one big thing. What we're trying to do is a bunch of exciting little things," Cahill said. "We don't have a magic potion."
Lottery officials said Massachusetts will become the third state to offer a Keno racing game, along with Rhode Island and Kentucky. Cahill said the Lottery chose stock cars because of the popularity of the sport, but he said the game software is capable of using other icons.
The Keno race car game and the existing Keno game are similar in that both involve picking randomly generated numbers to win, but Lottery officials hope the race car game will attract players who don't play the current game.
Cahill said the new game will be more social, attracting casual gamblers who stop at a bar or pub with their friends and play the game for fun.
There are seven types of bets on each racing game. The best odds, 1 in 4, are picking a car to come in either first, second, or third, yielding a payout of $2. By contrast, the odds are 1 in 1,320 of picking which cars will come in first, second, and third. The payout for picking the first three numbers in exact order is $900.
The existing Keno game plays on video screens every four minutes from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. at 1,725 locations across the state. The car racing game is expected to run every 10 minutes over the same time period, or 120 races a day.
The cartoon cars race around a faded asphalt track three times. Viewers can hear the cars roar down the straight-away and watch them jockey for position. In one race in a sample video provided by the Lottery, one of the 12 racing cars spins out, hits the wall, and flips in the air.
Lottery officials said the racing game will run on its own video monitor, separate from the existing Keno game. The officials said they will initially install the same type of video monitor used for regular Keno, but ultimately hope to run the racing game on bigger flat-screen TVs. Bars or restaurants are allowed to buy their own monitors. The Lottery estimates the installation cost for the new game will be approximately $743 per establishment.
Jeff Nocera , vice president of the Chateau Restaurants, said two of his facilities, in Waltham and Norwood, will participate in the initial test of the race car game. At the Waltham restaurant, Nocera said, he plans to run the racing game on one of the monitors currently devoted to the existing Keno game. He hasn't seen the game yet, but he thinks patrons will enjoy it.
"It's something different," he said.