Kentucky Lottery is optimistic about Monday's launch of Keno

While scratching off lottery tickets last week, Chris Brown checked out the new keno area at the Dairy Mart on Reynolds Road.  Store owner Eddie White added tables and chairs so keno players will have a place to hang out. The Kentucky Lottery game starts Monday.
While scratching off lottery tickets last week, Chris Brown checked out the new keno area at the Dairy Mart on Reynolds Road. Store owner Eddie White added tables and chairs so keno players will have a place to hang out. The Kentucky Lottery game starts Monday. Lexington Herald-Leader

Beginning Monday, there is a new game in town: Keno, the latest product from the Kentucky Lottery, debuts across the state at about 400 locations, including 15 in Lexington.

The rollout for the game — a sort of pick-your-own-size lottery with drawings every five minutes nearly around the clock, 250 times a day — is on par with lottery officials' expectations.

"That's about what we'd hoped to achieve this fiscal year," Arch Gleason, Kentucky Lottery chairman and CEO, said during an interview last week. "About half are new retailers in what could loosely be characterized as the social environment — fraternal organizations, bars and restaurants. About half are existing lottery retailers."

In Lexington, in addition to four con venience stores that sell lottery tickets, there will be keno at spots that have never had gambling.

At one of those, Sports Page Bourbon Bar & Grill in the Clarion Hotel on Newtown Pike, there are three new TVs for keno among the 15 the bar already had.

Worthie McGuire, food and beverage director, said he hoped keno would "give people something to do while they are watching the game. It will be every five minutes — 12 times an hour. ... It's just another option, another draw for the customers."

He thinks it will bring in a new audience, customers who like to play the lottery or bingo. "They're going to love it," McGuire said.

Gleason hopes so. The Kentucky Lottery Corp. board voted in March to add keno to boost revenue for scholarships. Last spring, the General Assembly considered using keno revenue to shore up state pensions but ultimately used other revenue instead. But the lottery board moved forward, getting approval in June for a $635,000 contract with the gaming technology company GTECH to run the game.

Gleason said the lottery anticipated an average of $2,000 in weekly sales per location. That should amount to about $28 million in sales through June, the end of fiscal year 2014, which would generate about $8 million in new revenue.

The lottery will spend about $1 million getting the game up and running and advertising it. The net revenue for the year is projected to be about $7 million.

Opponents of expanded gambling say keno amounts to a massive expansion without new input from the General Assembly.

"We don't think it was something that was anticipated by the lawmakers who passed the lottery legislation, and we're considering our options right now" in terms of challenging keno, said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy group. "We don't think it's good for the horse industry; it's just more competition. It's an expansion of gambling in the state, and we would question whether they really have the authority to do that under lottery legislation."

Corey Johnsen, chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which has lobbied for expanded gambling at racetracks to help the horse industry, said his group had no position on keno.

Kentucky will be the 15th state to offer keno, which is played in about a third of all the states that have lotteries; total keno sales are about $3 billion annually.

Gleason said the number of outlets in Kentucky was expected to grow to about 675, which would generate $30 million in revenue annually.

"If we're able to do $100 million in sales by the fifth full year, that would put it as our third-best-selling game," he said. "Scratch-offs, by far, are still our best-selling product line, but on an annual basis, $100 million is not much different than Powerball sales in Kentucky."

Last year, Kentucky sold $522.2 million in scratch-off tickets and $104.9 million in Powerball tickets.

About 64 percent of all the money is returned to players in the form of winnings, Gleason said.

In keno, players decide how many numbers — as many as 10 — they want to pick out of 80; the more they have to match, the more they could win. Every five minutes, the lottery will draw 20 numbers.

Players also choose how much they want to wager per ticket and how many consecutive draws they want to play. So, if you wager $10 for five draws, the cost is $50. The maximum amount of a wager on a ticket is $240, according to the lottery.

Players could win from $2 to $100,000, depending on how many numbers they play and match.

Typically, people play three, four or five numbers at a time, with as much as 85 percent of the wagering in that group, Gleason said.

"Players don't get too excited about winning $2," Gleason said. But if they match three and get $17, or four and get $72, or five and get $410, that's more attractive.

At the Dairy Mart on Reynolds Road, which sells more lottery tickets than anywhere else in Fayette County, owner Eddie White is ready for the new game. He has rearranged his store, adding tables and chairs so customers will have a place to hang out and play a while.

"I don't know what to expect, I really don't," White said. "We've been passing out brochures for the last week. ... I think it's going to go over good, but we won't know until we try it."

White said he thought the Dairy Mart would have an advantage because it is open 24 hours a day; the first keno drawing of the day will be at 5:05 a.m., and it will go to 1:55 a.m. It will be available to play seven days a week.

"I think we'll do particularly well," White said. "They're aiming this more at bars and restaurants, and we'll offer an alternative because a lot of people don't necessarily want to go to a bar or restaurant to play."