Keno Divides Arkansas Legislators, Lottery Director

Arkansas lawmakers recently approved a moratorium on keno monitor games until next March. State Senator Jimmy Hickey said that allows time to review "any and every aspect" of the lottery, including moving it to a state agency. Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said he'll use the time to convince legislators keno can raise millions for college scholarships.

In a special session, Arkansas legislators recently approved a measure that prohibits the state lottery from launching monitor games such as keno until March 13, 2015. State Senator Jimmy Hickey originally proposed banning the games altogether but agreed to a moratorium so lawmakers could revisit the issue in the next session.
Hickey said voters did not envision keno when they approved the constitutional amendment for the lottery in 2008. He added in addition to banning keno, he wants to review the law that set up the Lottery Commission and possibly revamp the overall structure of the games. He stated he plans to look at other state lotteries, and he’s considering a proposal to move lottery management from an independent commission to a state agency such as the Department of Finance and Administration “This is going to give time to study any and every aspect within that lottery bill,” he said.

The moratorium also gives time to lottery officials to meet with lawmakers prior to next year’s legislative session to explain the benefits of keno, a bingo-style game with draws every six minutes that players could track on monitors. The lottery projected keno would attract new players and sell $12.5 million in keno tickets, generating $3.8 million in revenue for college scholarships. Lottery Director Bishop Woosley noted, “It is my job to try and find new sources of revenue. That’s what I have to do.” However, the lottery commission set up an impasse with legislators by voting to start the games one day after a legislative oversight committee passed a resolution of “non-support.”

The moratorium on keno united unlikely associates including gambling interests such as Oaklawn Park and gambling opponents like the Family Council, which had campaigned against the lottery six years ago,

Ernie Passailaigue, the original lottery director, resigned in 2011 over state audit findings plus controversy over his salary of $324,000. Soon after, one of Passailague’s top deputies resigned and another was fired.