by Max Brantley
House Speaker Robbie Wills has been raking me over the coals for saying nobody knew anything about keno parlors being legalized as part of the Arkansas lottery. Why, he's quite sure he mentioned it at a Feb. 18 committee meeting. If news coverage didn't pick it up then and the rest of the state's 2.6 million or so residents somehow missed it, well, it wasn't his fault.
Oops. Looks like Gov. Mike Beebe didn't get the keno message either. Beebe thinks the Arkansas lottery should be consistent with what voters thought they were approving and he doesn't remember anything about keno. Poll voters and I think you'd find they expected to get scratchoff tickets, weekly drawings and, they hoped fervently, Powerball. Not video machines with instant play games. Not poker. Not keno. Not roulette. Not other forms of wagering. All these things were authorized by a backdoor repealer in the massive and complicated lottery law, we are now discovering. Many of them are contemplated by the lottery's boss.
We shall see, I guess.
But I will say it one more time. Wills clearly intended -- and approves of -- the classic operation of keno games known in casinos around the world. People gather in bars and restaurants and mark cards betting that numbers will pop up. You can run a new game every five minutes or so. It is a standard attraction in a casino. Legalizing this game will spur the creation of gambling parlors with keno, scratchoff ticket sales and, perhaps, any number of other lottery games, some electronic, in one location. It's a mini-casino in appearance and practice, no matter what terminology the law or Speaker Wills wishes to apply to them. (By law, those buildings in Hot Springs and West Memphis where people play poker, blackjack and other machine games for money are not casinos either. But of course they are.)
UPDATE: Guess what. Connecticut is squabbling over keno. Some legislators there think it's a casino-type game and that people will hang around bars drinking hoping for a lucky card to turn up. Speaker Wills, you have more explaining to do. On the other hand, it's been a flop in Ohio.