Nothing like a deep recession and a lingering budget crisis to change attitudes about gambling.
The big recession in 1981-82 eroded resistance to a state lottery and it became a relatively small part of the solution to a series of budget shortfalls.
I’ve been expecting this recession to bring similar results. Political statements that Washington already has enough gambling lose steam when the alternative is even more budget cuts or more tax increases.
Gambling was only a tiny part of the budget passed in April – the addition of Powerball to the list of lottery games offered. And the benefits of that had to be exaggerated to get it past the governor and the Legislature.
The next session may bring another step, however, that might start small but has the potential to once again change the way gambling looks in Washington. The Washington State Lottery Commission, apparently with the blessing of Gov. Chris Gregoire, is shopping around a bill to create all-day Keno.
It would have two parts. First, the current once-a-day Keno drawing where players pick up to 10 numbers on a 1-80 grid could expand to a drawing every four minutes.
In addition, the bill allows large TV monitors to be placed in bars, taverns and minicasinos so gamblers can watch the winning numbers as they are generated. Anyone who has been in a bar or restaurant in Oregon would be familiar with how this game would look.
Last year the Lottery produced a rough estimate that both aspects of expanded Keno could produce between $28.8 million and $60 million a year, though startup costs would consume some of that. While not a lot of money when applied to the pending state budget deficit of $2.6 billion, the governor and the Legislature are in every-little-bit-helps mode right now.
And once the state takes the step toward broader electronic gaming, it would be a smaller step toward player-operated games like video poker. That’s where the big money would come in and that is why the state’s gambling tribes were not happy when the bill was presented to them last week. They see it as the camel’s nose under the tent and don’t want non-tribal competition for electronic gambling, especially at a time when many casinos are seeing reduced play and some tribes are having trouble making loan payments
Tribal leaders recall a pledge made by former Gov. Gary Locke that the tribes would have an exclusive on electronic gambling.
One person who listened to the recent presentation said the tribal representatives were not convinced by Lottery Director Christopher Liu and his staff.
“They politely as they could bit their heads off and sent them on their way.”
Nonetheless, Gregoire is considering the expanded Keno as she prepares a budget plan due to be released next week.
“It is in her thought process,” said Gregoire’s legislative liaison Marty Brown. “It’s under consideration.”
Those who try to treat addicted gamblers have objected to past expansion attempts. In a memo last year when similar proposals were floated, state problem gambling program manager Linda Graves said any increased availability of gambling increases the risk of addiction.
Graves also said she was concerned about linking the games to bars and taverns.
“The use of alcohol releases inhibitions, which can increase gambling behaviors and reduce impulse control,” Graves wrote.
The Lottery is suggesting one other change, one that allows scratch lottery ticket players to use the Internet to register for contests, second-chance drawings and other prizes.
The Lottery thinks this would not violate a budget proviso inserted by Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, that bans Internet gambling.
The Lottery estimates this could increase sales and produce additional profits of between $5 million to $15 million.
Brown said the governor is “much further along” with the monitor games bill than the Internet bill.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657