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Published: Monday, 8/4/2008

Ohio gambles on Keno to fill budget deficit

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores are scheduled to start a statewide lottery game today that officials hoped would offset projected budget deficits.

Ohio scheduled its Keno lottery game to start at 11:04 a.m. and planned it to repeat four minutes apart, 221 times a day, seven days a week.

The state follows about a dozen other states with the bingo-like game, which, unlike many other lottery games, gives almost instant satisfaction - or disappointment.

An economic crunch led Gov. Ted Strickland, who worked last year to stop the expansion of slot-like gaming machines in the state, to push for Keno as a way to plug a state budget that is projected to have at least a $733 million deficit in 2009.

Several Republican lawmakers adamantly opposed to gambling say Keno will prey on - and the state budget will benefit from - the poor and working-class Ohioans who can least handle it.

Yet Ohio retailers have responded eagerly to the lottery expansion, hoping Keno in Ohio sees the same success as it does in Michigan, where Keno produced revenues of almost $500 million each year.

Some 1,070 retailers have applied to the Ohio Lottery Commission to provide the game, and between 750 and 800 were ready to start today, spokesman Marie Kilbane said.

There is an early concentration of vendors in the Toledo-area, where potential customers close to the Michigan border are already familiar with the game.

Lottery officials said they hope to have 2,000 vendors by the end of the year, enabling the state to hit its goal of reaching an annual revenue of $292 million - $73 million would go toward plugging the budget deficit.

"We have had positive interest from business," Ms. Kilbane said. "It's a way to get people in the doors."

That's exactly what makes Keno a costly opportunity, said state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon). "Keno is especially a bad form of gambling, in large part because it takes place mainly in drinking establishments," Mr. Wachtmann said. "The governor should be ashamed of himself for putting state spending ahead of the good of Ohioans."



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