The stakes are high for state Rep. Mike Boland, D-Moline: $130 million.
That's his estimate of what the state of Illinois could rake in annually if Club Keno were added to the lottery mix. Also known as Quick Draw Lotto, it is similar to a standard Lotto game with one big advantage: instead of one to five drawings per week, Keno numbers usually are drawn every five minutes.
Players would know right away whether the numbers they picked matched those randomly selected by a computer. The game would eliminate a problem among some Lotto players tossing a potential winning ticket in a drawer and forgetting about it.
Wrapping up a tour of the state promoting Keno, Boland settled in at the Elgin Law Enforcement Facility, where he touted what he says are the benefits of adopting the game.
"As we all know, we went through one of the worst budget crises in Illinois," Boland said. "There's a $5 billion budget hole and unless the economy turns around, we're going to be in that same fix again."
As Boland sees it, when people aren't working, they don't pay state income tax and don't buy as much, contributing to the loss of sales tax dollars.
"Those revenues are down and I don't see any turnaround everywhere I travel in the state," Boland said, noting that what he sees is more layoffs and companies downsizing.
Boland's idea certainly is not without precedent, as 11 states including Missouri and Michigan are taking advantage of Keno revenues. The problem in Illinois is that Boland is presenting his idea to Rod Blagojevich, the anti-gaming governor who already has slammed the door on Keno. Even so, Boland is urging Blagojevich to reconsider.
Boland said Keno could be up and running in Illinois within 90 days.
"They can have 500 terminals online," Boland said. "Within a year, they can have all 3,000 terminals ready to play Keno."
Boland also touted the game's low start-up costs. And he insists that adding Keno to the mix is not tantamount to gambling expansion.
"The lottery right now adds games and dumps games, depending on how profitable they are to the state," Boland said. "This would be just a new game added to the current array of lottery games."
He says Keno would be a boost to small business owners, many of whom already offer lottery games at convenience stores and gas stations.
"They get a percentage of lottery sales, so if you increase lottery sales they make more money," he said.
Michigan recently became the 11th state to adopt Keno, based in part on a new study that shows Keno brings in a lot of new small businesses such as lounges, VFW and American Legion posts and service clubs, according to Boland.
The question is whether Gov. Blagojevich can be persuaded to change his mind.
"It can be started immediately, if the governor just gives his OK," Boland said.
If the governor refuses, Boland says he will introduce legislation to "at least get it out on the table ... that the Legislature can look at and we can see as a possibility."
Boland said given the state's dismal economy, the General Assembly might even override a possible veto of a Keno bill. For the moment, it would seem the governor has no interest in introducing Keno in Illinois. Boland said he faxed his idea to Blagojevich a few weeks ago, but has yet to receive a reply.