Nebraska cities want people to play keno on their cell phones to help keno facilities and bars compete with new casinos, opening next year.
Mobile Keno Can Be an Alternative to Casino Gambling
On Monday, cities in Nebraska asked lawmakers to allow people to play mobile keno. According to them, it would help keno venues to compete with casinos, opening next year. Some lawmakers and anti-gamblers strongly opposed the idea, stating that expanding the game beyond its form which is currently paper-only, won’t make much difference.
Keno is a game that resembles a lottery, where players pick numbers on a piece of paper and submit them to a keno operator. They can give it to a bartender or an employee at a keno facility. The game has been available in Nebraska for decades. Now, cities and the keno industry are worried that they will lose money due to the legalization of casinos, which provides many more ways to bet.
Nebraska Cities Want Mobile Keno
Bellevue City Finance Director Richard Severson told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee that keno generated $7.5 million in local revenue over the past decade. He said that the money was helpful in many ways without raising taxes or revenue through other means. The city used that money for different things, including funding domestic violence abuse programs, economic development, and parks upgrades.
Ralston City Administrator Rick Hoppe stated that his city could suffer from financial loss, and it would be hard to pay its debt for an arena project, which didn’t meet the expectations. He said he needs to show creditors that the city has a stable income source and can pay off its debt. A loss of keno revenue is going to sabotage these plans.
Omaha lobbyist Jack Cheloha said that his city uses keno revenue for cleanup projects to buy police cars and secures the lease payment on the downtown baseball arena, TD Ameritrade Park bonds.
If the measure is approved, it would be a part of a larger gambling bill, which would allow keno players to use their phones. A keno app would be linked to their bank accounts since players won’t be allowed to use credit cards. The app would also have “geofencing,” allowing users to play only on the premises that permit keno.
Recently, the majority of Nebraskan senators approved LB 561, regulating sports betting. The bill also includes online keno. The bill moved forward with a 37-5 vote.
Opponents Fear a New Form of Gambling
Opponents fear that a new measure allowing mobile keno attempts to implement a new form of gambling that goes beyond the outlines of last year’s legalized casino gambling measure. According to the policy director for the Nebraska Family Alliance, Nate Grasz, it will harm the poorest people in the state.
Lawmakers expressed concerns that at-risk gamblers would spend their money easier on a mobile app and empty their bank accounts, including joint accounts.
Another argument is that casinos may not overshadow keno. Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth doesn’t see casinos as a competition to keno venues. He said that people would still prefer a bar to play keno over a beer, whereas casinos have a completely different crowd.