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New lottery game sales higher than expected

By Kevin Wheatley The State Journal

A new lottery game in Kentucky has exceeded sales expectations since its launch in November despite attracting fewer retailers than anticipated.

Keno, a bingo-style game with draws every five minutes, sold $28.5 million in wagers as of June 21, half a million more than projected for the 2014 fiscal year, said Kentucky Lottery Chief Financial Officer Howard Kline. With sales averaging $864,000 per week, the lottery expects fiscal year totals of about $29.4 million, he said.

Some lawmakers feared that Keno would create more gambling addicts. Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said during an interim appropriations and revenue committee last year that the five-minute drawing interval at locations with a mix of gambling and booze would "dramatically" increase the number of addicts.

Mike Stone, executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, said it's too early to tell whether Keno has created new gambling addicts.

"But we can say from a big, general picture that any time gambling expands, one of the key risks of gambling addiction is the opportunity to gamble, and so obviously then if gambling expands, there's more opportunity for the potential for gambling problems to develop," he said.

"But we have no data right now that Keno has had any significant impact."

Even though the lottery has topped sales projections since Keno's introduction, retailers have been difficult to attract in the game's brief existence. Kentucky Lottery expected to have 400 Keno-only retailers by the end of June, but as of May 31, only 272 such locations offer the game, Kline said, noting the next fiscal year, which began Tuesday, has a 450-location target.

Keno has been marketed as a more social game, so the Kentucky Lottery has reached out to businesses that traditionally don't offer lottery games, such as bars and restaurants.

"Recruiting new retailers, especially Keno-only retailers, is one of our major tasks going forward," Kline said. "We're hoping to have 400 retailers by the end of the fiscal year. Obviously we're short of that. We need to continue to grow our base."

The council stays neutral on gambling, Stone said, calling it a personal choice. His only concern with implementing Keno in social settings is that establishments properly advertise that gambling can be addictive.

The Kentucky Lottery has been "very diligent" in that regard with its "Play Responsibly" campaign, he said. The Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling also markets the addictive nature of gambling and resources available should issues develop, he added.

"They (Kentucky Lottery) have no mandate to do that," Stone said of advertising resources for problem gambling. "They did that out of social responsibility."

Chip Polston, spokesman for Kentucky Lottery, said $18.5 million, or about 65 percent of sales, had been paid in winnings as of June 21.

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