HARTFORD, Conn. — Attorney General Richard Blumenthal advised Connecticut legislators Monday to amend the state's memoranda of understanding with two federally recognized Indian tribes before attempting to legalize Keno in the state.
He said the proposal to bring Keno to Connecticut, suggested last week by Gov. M. Jodi Rell as a way to raise about $60 million a year in new revenue, could risk the $400 million the casinos provide the state annually in slot machine revenues.
Under that memoranda between the tribes and the state, no other person within Connecticut has the right to operate a "commercial casino game." Blumenthal said current law is unclear whether state-run Keno would be considered a "commercial casino game." Also, he said Rell's proposal is vague and does not specify the type of Keno gaming that's being contemplated.
"We are not foreclosing but definitely forewarning that more than $400 million could be put at serious risk by unilaterally enacting a statute to provide for Keno gaming," he said.
Rell maintains that Keno, typically an electronic lottery that's played about every five or eight minutes, can be introduced by the state as a "lottery game" and pointed out how Blumenthal had even referred to Keno as a "lottery-type game" back in 2005.
"Nevertheless, I have always intended to make sure we proceed in a way that honors and protects Connecticut's long-standing relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes while establishing a new and much-needed revenue stream for our state," she said. She also noted that more than a dozen other states have the game, including neighboring Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.
In a written statement, the Mashantucket Pequots, who run the Foxwoods Resort Casino, said: "We acknowledge that Attorney General Blumenthal has an accurate understanding of the slot agreement."
Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said the Mohegans "will more fully consider the proposal after our legal team has had the opportunity to review the final language and the state's definition of this new game."
Both tribes' casinos currently offer Keno to their patrons.
State lawmakers had asked Blumenthal for his opinion on the legality of Rell's Keno proposal last week. Rell suggested adding the game as part of a $37.2 billion revised budget for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years. The Republican governor and the Democrat-led General Assembly have been unable to agree on a budget, stymied by a massive deficit.
The Legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates the next two years are $8.7 billion in deficit, while Rell's budget office maintains it is $7.95 billion.
The co-chairmen of the Legislature's Public Safety Committee, which deals with gambling matters, have mixed opinions about Keno.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said he likes to gamble and is willing to try and reach a compromise on Keno. Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said she thinks "it needs a lot more time" and that Rell's revenue estimates are exaggerated. She also has concerns about expanding gambling and its implications.
"If it's something that ends up in bars, are we going to end up with people having an extra drink at the bar, waiting for that next Keno card to come up and will we, in turn, have more people who shouldn't be drinking and driving," she said.
While the details of Rell's plan have not been released, advocates have said Keno would likely be played at bars, restaurants, private clubs and bowling alleys. One company that supplies Keno devices, Scientific Games Corp., has been talking with state legislators, the Connecticut Bowling Proprieters Association and the state's restaurant association about the concept.
Rell's budget director, Robert Genuario, said under the governor's latest budget proposal the state would essentially borrow against the next 10 years of expected Keno revenues, generating $400 million.
Paul Young, executive director of the state's Division of Special Revenue, which regulates gambling in Connecticut, reaffirmed Monday that he believes the agreement between the two tribes and the state would allow the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to offer Keno games because it is a lottery game.
He said he didn't believe legislation is necessary.
A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has said the quasi-public agency was waiting to take its lead from the General Assembly.