AUGUSTA – Two new games of chance that would generate revenue for the state continue to be discussed at the State House as lawmakers consider ways to fill a budget shortfall estimated at $360 million.

On Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee questioned lottery director Dan Gwadosky on how Keno and Megamillions would work, and whether existing games would lose revenue if new games are added. They also wanted to know how strongly Gov. John Baldacci opposes the ideas.

Gwadosky said that although the administration opposes adopting Megamillions and adding Keno terminals to bars and some charitable nonprofits, such as fraternal organizations, he could provide the committee with revenue estimates.

Keno, which is in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and 11 other states, would generate an estimated $2.3 million a year for Maine, he said. Megamillions, which is similar to Powerball, is in 12 states and would bring in about $1.5 million a year, he said.

Several legislators asked about Baldacci’s opposition and whether he opposes Keno more than Megamillions.

”In both cases, the governor did not support either proposal,” said Ryan Low, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. ”We did not talk about levels of dislike.”

Baldacci’s level of comfort is important because the budget will land on his desk for approval after lawmakers agree on a way to cover the $360 million shortfall.

The Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee supported the addition of both games. It’s now up to the Appropriations Committee to decide whether to include one or both in a final package.

Appropriations Committee members said they haven’t ruled the games in or out, but will continue to keep them as an option as negotiations continue.

Rep. John Robinson, R-Raymond, said he’s not opposed to the expansion of gambling. ”I’m open to anything that’s going to create new revenues that don’t require raising taxes,” he said.

The committee’s House chair, Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she’s glad the discussions are happening now, while there’s still a lot of negotiating left to do. ”I’m not opposed to talking about it as part of the budget,” she said.

But several bigger items remain to be decided, she said, such as education funding, health and human services cuts, and how proposed reductions will affect cities and towns.

She noted that Baldacci supported bringing Powerball to Maine in 2004 to raise revenue, and that further discussions about whether to expand gambling will be in the context of the size of the revenue shortfall.

”Today, it’s a straight up or down,” she said. ”In a few weeks, it could be, ‘Here’s what we have left and here’s what we can’t live with.’ ”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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