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Franklin is First in N.H. to OK Keno - Now What?

AP/Mark Duncan

This week Franklin became the first place in New Hampshire to allow the electronic gambling game Keno to be played in its borders.

Last legislative session lawmakers legalized Keno to help pay for full-day kindergarten in the state.

Now that it can be played in Franklin – what does that mean for the businesses that want it?

NHPR’s Paige Sutherland joins All Things Considered host Peter Biello to break down some of those details.

To start off – why is Franklin the first city to weigh in on this? And what was the vote like Tuesday?

Simply, Franklin was the first city to have a local election. The other 12 cities will weigh in on November 7th when state elections are held - except for Lebanon, which hold its election in March. Towns will also be voting in March as well on Town Meeting Day. And Portsmouth voted not to put Keno on the ballot.

On Tuesday in Franklin, the turnout was low but for those who did show up, 60 percent voted in support of Keno.

I know it’s early but what are businesses in Franklin saying about this – does there seem to be interest there?

Yes and no. I talked with a few businesses such as J.J.’s Woodfire Pizza, a popular local spot, and they’re interested. One of the managers there told me they're simply waiting for the state to tell them how it would work. Under the new law, the games need to be played in a restricted 21 only area and since this place has an open concept layout, they're not quite sure how it would work.

The local VFW in Franklin says sign me up. They still have to have their members weigh in but one of the managers there said they already have slot machines, so Keno would just offer another option for their customers

The owner at Al’s Village Pizza on the other hand says he didn't even know what Keno is. But he said he's willing to look into it. 

Ok so can those businesses just get going now?

Under the legislation, it has to be pouring liquor establishments - meaning bars and restaurants not liquor stores or convenience stores like in Massachusetts.

But just because you are one of those places doesn’t mean you’ll be granted a Keno license. The state lottery commission will be reviewing each application and owners with criminal histories or bad credit could be denied. As well, if the business doesn’t seem to be profitable for the state, for example it's too small or won’t attract keno customers, the state could say no thanks.

If a business is granted a license – what happens then? Who’s in charge of getting these Keno machines up and running?

The state is really the ones behind all of this. They’ll provide the T.V. monitors, the software, the cable wiring, even the pencils. The state is trying to use this to make money, specifically to pay for full-day kindergarten, so licenses won't be granted to places that don't seem a good fit.

The business just has to pay the annual $500 dollar licensing fee. And in return they get 8 percent of all profits. In Massachusetts that number is around 6 percent.

And something Charlie McIntrye the state lottery commissioner will be marketing very heavily is that – if you play Keno in NH, you won’t be taxed on your winnings like in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts due to its state income tax, all Keno winnings have a 5 percent tax. McIntyre is hoping this will entice N.H. residents to play the games here rather than across the border. Annually, Massachusetts makes more than $20 million off N.H. residents playing Keno in their state.

When should we expect to see Keno in the Granite State?

The official launch is scheduled for December 15th. The state lottery commission is expecting by the end of next year that out of the estimated 2,000 eligible places in New Hampshire – one in eight will have Keno. And McIntyre says that’s a very conservative number.

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