AUGUSTA — Would adding Keno, a lottery- or bingo-like automated game, to the list of state-sponsored gaming significantly expand gambling in Maine?

That’s the question lawmakers on the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee are struggling to answer, as they consider a bill sponsored by state Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, that was intended to add revenue opportunities for nonprofits and veterans’ organizations. Now, it’s turned into much more.

Craven said she sponsored the measure, which was carried over from last year, at the request of Arnold Leavitt of Auburn, the legislative chairman for the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee.

“The original proposal was for poker video machines, it’s kind of like a stand alone (game) except that it has to have all kinds of monitoring, so you have to have the public safety people monitor it and we don’t have the money or the people-power for that,” she said.

Rep. Pam Trinward, D-Waterville, the House committee chairwoman, suggested the bill be changed to allow Keno to be made available not only to nonprofits, but statewide.

“It’s pretty clear how the governor feels on any expansion of gambling and (poker machines) would be a big expansion; Keno was an alternative,” she said during a work session on Monday. “I felt like it was better than saying completely, flat-out no. Keno is a structure I think we can work with and it’s been very successful in other states.”

According to a recent report prepared by the Department of Public Safety, nonprofits currently earn more than $60 million annually from the games they are already allowed to use as fundraisers, including beano, cards and dice games.

Dan Gwadosky, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, said adding Keno would bring in added revenue.

“We envisioned 75 locations at the start and 225 at the end of the first year; so if you look at the dollars we expected it would generate, it’s about $8.4 million,” he said.

State Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, who serves on the committee, said he prefers Keno to the video poker machines, in terms of oversight.

“This is one of the areas where Keno I think is different and that’s the question of real-time monitoring,” he said. “The opportunity to monitor a machine that’s paying out money at the end of a week, month or quarter, I don’t think is appropriate given the laws that we have governing the slot machines, for example. Because the Keno machines are centralized, I think that offers an opportunity to meet a need that’s there.”

David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, who has consistently opposed expanding gambling in Maine, said Keno counts.

“It would be a new form of gambling,” he said, adding that Baldacci would oppose it.

Craven said her chances have always been “kind of iffy.”

“I was hoping that something might come out of it, just so we could include it in the budget, because we are so much in the hole,” she said. “What’s really happening is the committee really hates to say no to the veterans yet again and they are trying to come up with something that might be workable.”

Craven said she’s not a gamer and isn’t sure how Mainers feel about the addition of Keno, which is already played in states such as Massachusetts, New York and California.

“I would love to have some feedback from the community because I don’t know how people feel about this kind of gaming,” she said.

Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, another member of the committee, said gambling is already widely legal in Maine.

“(It’s) very much a part of our lives, we just don’t want to admit it,” he said. “I think that this is a way for us to finally pony-up and say, ‘Let’s deal with it,’ and face it head on.”

The committee is scheduled to discuss the bill again on Wednesday.

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