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Published: 8/5/2008

Lottery players take a gamble on Ohio s 1st day of legal Keno

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Leo McClosky of Toledo gets the first Keno printout at 11:04 a.m. yesterday at Raceway Park in Toledo. Across Ohio, games are played every four minutes between 11:04 a.m. and 1:44 a.m. Leo McClosky of Toledo gets the first Keno printout at 11:04 a.m. yesterday at Raceway Park in Toledo. Across Ohio, games are played every four minutes between 11:04 a.m. and 1:44 a.m.
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A Keno player fills out a game card on Ohio s first day of Keno. More than 20,000 wagers were placed by 4:30 p.m. yesterday.
A Keno player fills out a game card on Ohio s first day of Keno. More than 20,000 wagers were placed by 4:30 p.m. yesterday.
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Mike Hohol and his wife, Karen, of South Toledo relax after a few games of Keno at the Fricker s restaurant in Maumee.
Mike Hohol and his wife, Karen, of South Toledo relax after a few games of Keno at the Fricker s restaurant in Maumee.
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Ohio s first day of legalized Keno resulted in more than 5,700 winning wagers placed before 4:30 p.m., but apparently none belonged to Mike Hohol, 63, of South Toledo.

I m not winning, Mr. Hohol said early yesterday evening, while enjoying a drink with his wife, Karen, 66, at the Fricker s restaurant on South Reynolds Road in Maumee.

It s like they say on TV, he said. Play it and have fun, and if you win, it s a bonus.

Customers at racetracks, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and other liquor-licensed establishments across Ohio took a crack at the Ohio Lottery Commission s newest electronic game at 11:04 a.m.

So far, so good, said Marie Kilbane, a public information officer for the Ohio Lottery Commission. Systemwide, things seem to be very good. We ve had 51 calls from Keno retailers with various questions, a couple of them with computer issues, growing pains we re working through. They may have lost or forgotten their pass code.

Some of these retailers have never sold a lottery ticket as well. We have a call center that deals with that. So they ve been helping.

Ms. Kilbane said, as of 4:30 p.m., Ohio Keno players placed 20,110 wagers equaling sales of $88,000.

We had 5,720 winning wagers validated, she said. Those winnings were valued at $45,000.

Club Keno, the casino-style game already legal in 12 states, was legalized in Ohio after Gov. Ted Strickland proposed it as an extension of the existing voter-approved lottery so the state can make money and prevent budget cuts in education funding.

Attempts by state lawmakers to prevent the governor s move were unsuccessful despite strong opposition critics such as Ohio Roundtable, a nonprofit group that has lobbied in the past against other legalized-gambling attempts.

The Ohio Lottery Commission describes Keno as a lottery-like game of chance in which players place bets of $1 to $5, $10, or $20 and can win up to $2 million.

Governor Strickland opposed a 2006 casino constitutional amendment and successfully fought so-called skill-based electronic games that involved wagers. Bars and businesses were forced to get rid of those games last year.

Ms. Kilbane said Keno is a form of gambling, but it is much like the Ohio lottery, which Ohio voters legalized in 1973.

The lottery s been in business since 1974, she said. Our retailers are licensed. We keep close track on them. You play with a pool of people from across the state. It s not like you play against a machine.

Rob Walgate, vice president of Ohio Roundtable, said when voters approved the Ohio Lottery in 1973, they never intended for that measure to be used in the manor that Governor Strickland and the Lottery Commission are using it for Keno.

At the end of the day, the governor and the Lottery Commission went and did what they want[ed] to do, Mr. Walgate said.

It s illegal for anyone else to do, but, [the thought is] We re the state, and we have the lottery commission, and we can do what we want.

Fricker s manager Steve Grady said he was puzzled when Fricker s corporate officials told his franchise, along with others in northwest Ohio, that beginning yesterday it would offer Keno along with other Ohio Lottery games.

Fricker s also offers Mega Millions, Pick 3, and Pick 4.

From my point of view, I was surprised it was allowed to take place, not that I m knocking it at all, he said.

You can t have a deck of cards in here, regardless if you re gambling or not.

But the Hohols , who describe themselves as gamblers, said the move couldn t happen quickly enough for them.

We go up to Detroit a couple times a month, Mr. Hohol said. Why should we as Ohioans make Detroit rich? We [gamble] responsibly. We do it when we can, and we have fun.

Mr. Walgate said legalized gambling, like Keno, exploit underprivileged people.

If you take a look at the model of the lottery as a whole, they re taking it from the people who have the littlest amount to spend, he said.

Sales, proportionally, happen at a greater frequency in ZIP codes where the median income is less. The state preys on the weakness of people. Should the state be the one that always wants to exploit that? That s the question.

Ms. Kilbane said about 717 retailers statewide have been approved for Keno monitors, and more than 1,000 have applications pending with the Lottery Commission.

We d like to have 2,000 vendors by the end of the calendar year, she said. We re looking to have $292 million in sales.

The Michigan Lottery, which the Ohio Lottery uses as a model for the Keno games, made more than $491 million in fiscal year 2007, up from more than $424 million in fiscal year 2006.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:calcorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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