Mar 15, 2017, 7:54 am
North Carolina's state-run lottery is expanding its gambling options with a new game starting this fall that could attract younger players and satisfy the thirst of legislators seeking more money for education initiatives.
The North Carolina Education Lottery Commission agreed Tuesday to offer the draw game called keno, which is already offered by lotteries in 16 other states. It's billed as an amusement for people who like to socialize in bars, restaurants, truck stops and other settings.
An outside audit estimates keno could generate as much as $66 million by the fifth year, and $220 million in cumulative revenues over five years. A good portion would go to the state for public education. The audit didn't estimate how much, but the lottery generated $634 million overall for education last year, roughly 25 percent of the nearly $2.4 billion in gross sales of numbers drawings and scratch-off tickets.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate Republicans this month proposed using lottery funds for school construction and pay raises for principals and some teachers.
"The legislative leadership and the governor's office are looking for more revenue from the lottery," lottery Executive Director Alice Garland told commission members before their vote on keno. "And this is quite frankly a good source of new revenue."
Keno is played in public places, such as restaurants and bars, unlike other numbers games, where people buy tickets at convenience stores and results are announced twice a day on television and online.
Keno drawings occur rapidly, such as every five minutes. The lottery draws from the numbers one to 80. Players fill out a form to decide how many of the 20 numbers chosen at random they will try to pick, and how much they'll bet. The more they risk, the higher their reward.
Garland would like to see 500 retailers ready for an Oct. 15 kickoff, and as many as 1,500 a year later. The audit said keno could have particular appeal to millennials, who have been underrepresented as lottery players.
"What does best is definitely your places where people sit and stay for a long period of time," said Terri Avery, the lottery's deputy executive director for sales, adding keno "is one of the most exciting things that you'll ever be a part of it because it's social and it's fun."
None of the commissioners voted Tuesday against moving forward. Still, Garland and commissioners acknowledged the game represented a new direction for the lottery, which began selling tickets 11 years ago this month.
"While it is technically a draw game, it's expanding the envelope," Commissioner Jody Tyson said.
Lottery opponents say expanding playing options only increases the chances for more people to become addicted to gambling.
"Clearly the intent is to get increased participation by individuals who are already playing or encouraging and enticing more citizens to play," John Rustin, executive director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said in an interview. Rustin pointed to studies that he said show gambling problems are linked to increases in crime and domestic violence.
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