Gambler offers cautionary tale of addiction to game
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — At 7:24 p.m. on Oct. 10, the City Council opened a public hearing on a fall ballot measure to allow businesses to offer keno gambling in the city.
The hearing was also closed at 7:24 p.m. because nobody from the public wanted to speak.
Councilors had already decided to put the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot. The hearing to give the public a chance to offer opinions about keno was required under the state legislation allowing the game by local choice.
In an earlier council meeting, Kelley-Jaye Cleland, director of sales and product development for the New Hampshire Lottery, extolled the virtues of keno, saying it was good for business and would raise money for schools. Local businessmen also spoke in favor of the game. Nobody spoke against.
On its website, the lottery makes a pitch for businesses to offer the game:
“KENO 603 is more than a new kind of fun. It's a new way to profit! For every dollar sold for the KENO 603 game, you'll earn an 8 percent sales commission – the highest in the country! Plus, you can earn additional bonuses by selling tickets with a $10,000 or greater top prize.
“And KENO 603 sales won't be the only thing on the rise. More customers will be pouring in to play KENO 603, which will help increase food and beverage sales. Licensed businesses will also be able to sell all other lottery games along with KENO 603.
“So not only is KENO 603 good for your customers, it's good for your business!”
Despite the seeming lack of local opposition, Demetri Papageorgiou, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, disputes whether the game is good for customers.
He has experience with keno in his home state, and it hasn't been a pleasant one.
Papageorgiou said some people can play the game in moderation without a problem. For others, it becomes an addiction. He belongs to the latter group and is now a member of Gamblers Anonymous.
“You can get into huge problems with keno,” he said. “I got into major difficulty.”
Papageorgiou won a $1 million jackpot with a scratch-off ticket in 2003. The jackpot was to be paid in a multi-year annuity, but he was able to sell the annuity for a lump sum for about half its face value before taxes.
He ended up losing all that money, and then some, playing keno and scratch-off.
“I was scratching two to four tickets and dropping $100 to $300 in keno,” he said. “Sometimes you win and prolong the day a little bit, but you give it back. When you are addicted to gambling, there is never enough money. It doesn't matter what I would win, I rarely walked out with any money in my pocket, and I'd only walk out if I needed to get home.”
He kept his gambling from his wife.
“I'd run out and say I needed to do some errands and then I would extend my stay,” he said.
He intercepted the mail, so his wife didn't see bank statements. He ran up his credit cards. He borrowed from relatives. He failed to make mortgage payments. He didn't pay his taxes.
His wife eventually caught up with him when she saw the mail one day.
He joined Gamblers Anonymous and has now gone eight years without gambling. He eventually managed to catch up on bills.
“I give credit to my wife,” he said. “She stuck it out with me and gave me another chance. I went to meetings, spilled my guts and haven't had the urge to gamble since.”
In the keno game, the player selects from one to 12 numbers from a pool of 1 to 80. A wager of $1 to $25 can be made per draw. The player wins by matching a number or numbers to those drawn by a computer random number generator.
According to the lottery, the chances of winning $2 on a $1 bet in which the player selects a single number, or spot, is 1 in 4.
There is a 1 in 326 chance of winning a $100 prize by matching four numbers in a four-spot game.
There is a 1 in 40,979 chance of winning $5,000 by matching seven numbers in a seven-spot game.
The chance of winning $1 million by selecting all 12 numbers correctly in a 12-spot game is 1 in 478,261,833. Lottery systems in the United States say it's never been done.
For comparison, the chances of getting hit by lightning in any given year are 1 in 700,000.
On the ballot
Of the 12 cities voting this fall, keno will be on the ballot in 11. The Portsmouth City Council decided not to put it on the ballot. Franklin has already held an election and voters decided businesses should be allowed to offer the game. Towns will consider the game as part of the town meeting process in the spring.
The game is for establishments with liquor licenses, with net revenue going toward funding full-day kindergarten. About 50 such businesses could qualify in Laconia.
Kelley-Jaye Cleland, of the New Hampshire Lottery, said Massachusetts takes in $900 million a year in its keno game, with 2.5 percent of the money coming from New Hampshire residents.
The lottery provides $25,000 a year to support efforts to help people with gambling problems. Also, 1 percent of revenue from keno is to go to the Department of Health and Human Services to help those with gambling problems.
Keno sales of $43.7 million are expected, with $8.5 million net revenue earmarked for full-day kindergarten. The money would be available beginning with the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018.