The regular clientele who stop the Eddie Coyle's Roadhouse Tavern in Dracut for a bite to eat after work are looking for some laughs and a family-friendly atmosphere.
There are also several pairs of eyes watching a Keno television monitor as a series of 20 numbers pops up on the screen, hoping they will be the ones to go home a few dollars richer.
"It's a recreational thing — people are just playing because it's something to do while they converse or have their meal," said Leslie Cox, the co-owner and manager. "They're not your seasoned gamblers. They're trying their luck. It's a social game."
Keno players tend to be older, and are mostly regulars who live and work in the area, she added.
"They're sure of their numbers and they know the odds, and they are on a budget," said Cox, who owns Coyle's with her husband Bob, a Dracut selectman. "We like it because it's a recreational tool. Everybody kind of gets that urge to see if their numbers come up."
There are 18 places to play Keno in this town of 28,600, and Dracut residents appear to like playing Keno more than most other communities in Greater Lowell.
About $8.7 million was wagered on Keno outlets in Dracut in fiscal 2005, according to state Lottery data, nearly 27 percent of all the net lottery sales from agents in Dracut in all games, including scratch tickets and jackpot games.
Statewide, Keno revenue made up about 16.6 percent of the total $4.4 billion in lottery sales statewide in fiscal 2005.
Across Massachusetts, recent format changes to Keno, some controversial, have fueled a surge in growth in sales.
Last year, the state collected $742 million in sales from Keno, a 16 percent increase from fiscal 2002, when the state made $640 million. This is despite a statewide workplace smoking ban enacted in 2004, which lottery officials said temporarily hurt sales.
Lottery officials credited the overall increase to two key changes.
In 2003, the lottery allowed games to start at 5 a.m., and end at 1 a.m., adding 22 hours of play each week. Lottery officials said the time change was mainly to allow morning commuters to be able to play on their way to work.
Then, the lottery shaved one minute between each game, from five minutes to four minutes.
But some compulsive gambling experts have questioned the Keno expansion, saying it could lead to more casual gamblers having problems.
"With more time to be able to play, you increase the chance that people will play more and potentially get into trouble," said Marlene Warner, program director for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
Still, Warner said her office receives far fewer calls for help from people in trouble because of Keno compared to those who have problems with scratch tickets or sports gambling.
"We have people who buy boxes of scratch tickets. Keno is not their number-one problem. Unfortunately, people find all kinds of ways to get into trouble," Warner said.
In Keno a player has to wait to see the numbers and find out if they won. "A scratch ticket is instantaneous. People really have a problem if they have to know immediately if they won. It's the high or rush that they're looking for," Warner said.
Typically, Keno is played in bars, convenience stores and restaurants, with a total of 1,725 agents statewide. Players can bet $1 to $20, and pick a set of numbers from 1 to 80 on a ticket. An employee then feeds the ticket into a machine, and moments later the winning numbers will appear on a TV screen one by one.
Players can win $1 to $1 million.
The lottery commission has compiled this profile of Keno players:
- About 10 percent of the state's adults play.
- Players are 62 percent male, 38 percent female, compared to a 50-50 split for all lottery games.
- About 59 percent of Keno players have household incomes of $50,000 or more, and 59 percent are employed full-time, while 9 percent are part-time.
- About 72 percent of Keno players play more than once per month.
- On average, they spend $43 per month, or $516 per year, on Keno.
Friday is the busiest day of the week for Keno, and the heaviest betting happens between 5-to-8 p.m.
Lisa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the lottery commission, said Keno is a unique because it is interactive, and can be played in groups.
She added that the lottery recently tried to enhance Keno by improving the graphics, and by adding a "multiplier" feature that can increase winnings by up to 10 times.