Maine Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that his administration is backing off its plan to expand the Maine State Lottery to include the gambling game Keno at as many as 300 locations.
In remarks to reporters during a maple syrup season ceremony at the Blaine House, LePage said he personally doesn't like gambling and supported the Keno proposal only because he thought Democrats wanted the lottery expansion.
"If they don't want it, then we'll kill it," he said. "In fact, I told them to go kill it now."
The announcement comes a day after Richard Rosen, the governor's finance chief, defended the initiative before the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Members of the panel had submitted emergency legislation to block the initiative, which they argued would drift too far into traditional gambling and transform convenience stores and restaurants into mini-casinos.
Some also questioned whether the administration blind-sided the Legislature with a proposal that has proven controversial in the past and because it had done so through the rulemaking process rather than legislation.
"Legislators could have brought their concerns to the Administration and we could have avoided this debate," LePage said in a written statement. "While the Executive Branch is authorized to add a game to the Maine State Lottery without legislative approval, we will not add keno this year."
He added, "Democrats have expanded gambling in our state, and the people of Maine have said they want casinos. But now is not the time to have another debate over gambling. We are focused on cutting the tax burden for Maine people by $300 million and bringing prosperity to the future of our state."
Keno is a game offered at casinos in which a player selects 10 out of 80 numbers for cash prizes. The state's Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations was preparing to allow the game at licensed lottery retailers, such as convenience stores, and fraternal organizations, such as American Legion halls. The bureau estimated the expansion would yield $8.7 million in revenue for the General Fund in the first 12 months.
The administration's proposal also drew opposition from the Christian Civic League of Maine, which chastised the governor for introducing a gambling initiative that would "lead to more compulsive gamblers."
"And the more compulsive gamblers we have, the greater chance for domestic abuse we will have as well," said Carroll Conley, the league's executive director. "It is this reality that is truly upsetting, as the governor's proposal to expand state-sponsored gambling severely undercuts his stated commitment to reduce domestic violence in our state."
The bill to block the Keno expansion was expected to be reviewed in a legislative work session Wednesday.