Fernandez: Keno Will Hurt City’s Poor

Melissa Bailey PhotoTwo New Haven legislators made a bad bet on New Haven when they voted to bring more gambling here, Henry Fernandez argued Monday afternoon.

Fernandez (pictured), one of seven Democrats running for mayor, made the argument Tuesday in a campaign press conference outside Sports Haven, the city’s iconic gambling arena on Long Wharf Drive.

Sports Haven is one of many venues across the city and the state that are set to start offering Keno, a bingo-like game, as soon as January, thanks to a vote earlier this month by the state legislature.

The bill, which awaits approval by the governor, would spread Keno from the state’s two casinos into hundreds of restaurants and gas stations across the state. The move aims to fill a budget shortfall; it would generate $30 million in the first two years of the state budget, according to state estimates.

Fernandez Tuesday made Keno a campaign issue. He called on two opponents in the mayoral race, state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, to remove a provision in the state budget that legalized the game.

Fernandez warned that the move will expose children to gambling in restaurants, create new gambling addictions, “break up New Haven families,” cause an increase in poverty, and therefore, an increase in crime.

“It will turn New Haven restaurants into gambling halls,” he warned.

The state bill allows the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to start offering Keno in addition to the state lottery. In Keno, “players win prizes by correctly guessing some of the numbers generated by a central computer system using a random number generator, rabbit ear, or a wheel system device using numbered balls,” according to a state bill analysis. Players pick numbers, often based on a birthday or anniversary; then the system selects 20 out of 80 numbers.

The game is known as the crack cocaine of gambling, in part because it takes place every five or six minutes. Fernandez pointed to a Baltimore Sun story recounting swift addiction to the game when Maryland legalized it.

It’s not clear how many Keno terminals would open up in New Haven; about 600 would open up across the state, according to Sen. John Fonfara the head of the legislature’s Finance Committee.

Sports Haven plans to bring in Keno in January 2014, along with the rest of the state, according to Ted Taylor, of Sportech, which manages the arena.

Harp campaign manager Jason Bartlett replied that Harp is “quite comfortable” with the Keno vote, because the state needed the revenue for other purposes.

“Toni chose to protect the safety net,” education, and health care, Bartlett said.

Bartlett added that every other New England state offers Keno. He said the predictions about broken families amount to “a lot of grandstanding and hype.” If Fernandez opposes Keno, Bartlett argued, “the question is, is he going to raise taxes on the taxpayers? What education programs does he want to cut? There were tough choices to make this year.”

Fernandez responded that Keno makes up a small fraction of the two-year $37.6 billion budget the state approved.

Legalizing Keno “raises very little money for the state,” Fernandez added, and zero money for the city. The city takes in $900,000 per year from off-track betting at Sports Haven; no money would be set aside for municipalities through Keno.

Fernandez added that before bringing Keno to New Haven, the legislature should have sought local input.

“This wasn’t debated in New Haven, this wasn’t discussed in New Haven—this was done to New Haven,” he said.

Cities should have a say in whether and where Keno can be offered within city limits, he argued.

Bartlett replied that the idea of legalizing Keno has been proposed in previous years. “It’s not like it’s never been discussed before,” he said.

Holder-Winfield couldn’t be reached for this story. In a recent interview, he said he is very concerned about the negative social impacts of gambling. He said he considered Keno part of an overall sacrifices legislators made to balance the budget.

Christine Stuart contributed reporting.


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posted by: Wildwest on June 18, 2013  5:55pm

This really is just a small step above selling crack on the corner as far as the results will go but I am all for letting people have what they want as long as I dont have to support them when they spend their rent on the silly game.

If I do have to go to work to support the keno losers I do not want it.

posted by: Razzie on June 18, 2013  5:56pm

“He called on two opponents in the mayoral race, state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, to remove a provision in the state budget that legalized the game.”

Is he serious, or is this a misprint? Toni and Gary can’t sneak in and amend a validly enacted legislative provision.

posted by: Megan on June 18, 2013  6:00pm

Gambling makes profits by impoverishing people and turning them into addicts. Plain and simple. That is the business logic of Keno. It’s a complete falsehood that gambling is a solution to budget woes. Studies show that gambling ends up costing taxpayers more—because there’s more sickness, unemployment, unpaid debts, and kids who’ve lost a parent or guardian to addiction.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 18, 2013  6:04pm

My gambling crib sheet:

1. Keno is a terrible idea because of its addictive nature, the projected proliferation across so many venues and those most likely to play, are the ones who are most vulnerable - yes, those who need and use the proverbial safety net.

2. It also is a pathetic and sad way to balance the state’s budget.

3. It is ironic Toni Harp and her family have made millions off the poverty industry and yet, will pass a bill that targets those same people.

4. Harp had lots of company - those most vocal about protecting the “least among us” agreed to seduce the least among us with a “misery tax” include Harp’s attache, Sen. Martin Looney who appears to believe in taxing the poor to help the poor.

5. And then the state reps - who voted for this abomination: Gary Holder-Winfield, Assistant Principal and Rep. Toni Walker, Roland Lemar, Bob Megna, Pat Dillon, and Brendan Sharkey!

6. But wait! There’s more! All of the above named people to a person, agreed to craft the legislation in SECRET! And then certify it as an emergency! That way, they didn’t have to bother with a public hearing; didn’t have to hear from people like the gambling addiction folks or members of the public who preferred not to be confronted with Keno at every turn.

7. While Mini-me Fernandez has the hype of a Baptist preacher talking about the sins of the flesh, and in doing so, overstates the case, does not make the central point less valid. It’s a rotten, shallow idea. If it was such a stellar concept, it would have been passed in a transparent way, methodical, with public hearings and thoughtful discussion.

8. A billion dollars in new spending drove this bad idea. Based on their votes, Harp and HW will repeat it as mayor; Mini-me is a legacy baby with the same DNA. What we have here is a circular firing squad - kind of like the mobsters who shoot each other for being a crook.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 18, 2013  6:04pm

This reminds me of the Harvard professor’s comment on lotteries as “a tax on the stupid”.

Yes, it’s a bit harsh, but desperate people still have dreams of somehow scoring big.

Part of me thinks we should not be involved in people’s private vices. At a minimum, we shouldn’t be creating them at least.

posted by: Curious on June 18, 2013  6:18pm

What other vices would Toni Harp legalize to patch a hole in the budget?

posted by: Xavier on June 18, 2013  6:41pm

What a great shot of One City Henry and right to call Holder-Winfield and The Senator on the carpet for another “tax” on the poor aka KENO. (His tie even matches the mural on Sports Haven. One City Henry, classy.)

Highly addictive to the detriment of families and those unwitting players.

So the Senator’s campaign manager said the Senator is comfortable with her vote because she chose to protect the safety net. But if their parent’s weren’t gambling all their money on KENO, we would not need KENO. 

One City Henry nails it, this was something done to New Haven. No debate, no input. One City Henry is right, KENO will turn our dinning experience into a gambling (gaming) experience.

One City Henry, offering concrete solutions for New Haven, good sense of color coordination (not the tie, but race), strong candidate, strong personality, the next strong mayor of New Haven. If One City Henry was walking a Chihuahua, he would still look masculine. One City Henry, the most interesting and best candidate for mayor.

posted by: robn on June 18, 2013  8:15pm

Henry’s right. The social safety net is worthless if its just catching dead carcasses.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 18, 2013  11:22pm

Mr. Fernandez sounds like he did not go to law school and does not understand how the representative process works in our fair democratic republic.  By having legislators who are duly elected by the people, for the people, the citizens of New Haven had their input.  We simply can’t have every decision that impacts the City be brought back for public consideration.  Indeed, should Senators Harp and Looney and Representatives Holder-Winfield and Walker have come back to the city to ask if it was okay to funnel more tax dollars back to the City?  What about raising the minimum wage, should they have contacted every small business owner?  Please, don’t treat us like children.

As for vice taxes, if we are to get rid of them - let’s get rid of all forms of lottery.  That means powerball, megamillions, the mid-day numbers, etc.  If gambling is bad - it just bad in all forms.  It shouldn’t matter that certain of those dollars funnel back into education and other necessary state expenditures.  Indeed, if we’re talking about vices and their detriment to society - let’s enact prohibition because alcohol ruins more lives in this state that gambling, crack, and gun violence combined.  After all, the state should be able to control people’s bad decisions by taking away their options, right?

Or do we want a more measured approach?  Yes, Keno may not raise much money but it will raise money.  If the amount raised is truly insignificant, that means an insignificant amount of patrons will play and there won’t be many (if any) addicts.  If addiction becomes a widespread problem, approval of Keno can be repealed through the legislative process.  This is the beauty of our system.

posted by: Curious on June 19, 2013  8:00am

@ Atticus Shrugged,

I think the point being made above is that these kinds of things adversely and disproportionately affect New Haven and our other cities.

No one is going to be putting a keno parlor in Darien.  Ever.

Harp knows this, but doesn’t care.  At least she didn’t, until she decided to start running for mayor.

posted by: OneCityManyDreams on June 19, 2013  8:12am

Only in the world of Senator Harp can one create more poverty and expand gambling all in the name of love. She has done a good job.

“Toni chose to protect the safety net,” education, and health care, Bartlett said.

This is the way to do it. Protect the net by creating bigger problems for the poor.  Oh how brilliant. Or some might even say, how sad.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on June 19, 2013  9:22am

I’m no fan of Henry Fernandez, but he certainly has exposed the priorities of Harp. “Harp [who is co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee] is ‘quite comfortable’ with the Keno vote, because the state needed the revenue”. If she wins this election, get ready to have your wallets emptied.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on June 19, 2013  12:05pm

First of all, I tend to learn libertarian in the sense that I don’t think we should legislate self-destructive behavior, per se.  If someone wants to gamble or drink or smoke, it’s not really my place to make it impossible for them.

Gambling does tend to disproportionately lower income people, but there’s a Catch-22: gambling revenues tend to support public schools, which disproportionately helps middle and low income families.

In reality, I think one could make a case either way. On one hand, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage self-destructive behavior. On the other hand, I tend to err on the side of freedom, and any source of budget revenue is welcome.

As with many issues, there are varying shades of gray.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on June 20, 2013  11:58pm

I’m with Fernandez on this. I’m all for user fees, like we would see of tolls were installed on our highways with E-Z pass technology. But raising money through activities that promote addiction and social ills should be an absolute last resort. New Haven won’t see the money from the Keno but it will bear the cost.