Keno’s First Birthday Dampered By Illegal Skill Games

Written By Grant Lucas on May 2, 2019 - Last Updated on October 17, 2022
PA Keno profits Year 1

Break out the cake and the single birthday candle. Keno in Pennsylvania reached its first birthday this week.

It’s a landmark, certainly, for a state that continues to see legalized gambling expand.

The PA Lottery told PlayPennsylvania that the debut year of Keno generated $43,920,811 in sales and resulted in an estimated profit of $9,223,370, all of which goes to a fund to assist elderly citizens in the Keystone State. Not bad for a first birthday. Of course, there’s plenty of room to grow for one of the state’s newest expanded games.

One year ago, PA Keno was born

In essence, Keno was the first steps following the PA gambling expansion law of 2017.

Keno was among the first games rolled out, along with instant win PA online lottery games.

“Pennsylvania Lottery Keno players are going to love this exciting, new way to play and win,” lottery executive director Drew Svitko said at the time. “Although you can play Keno at any Lottery retailer, it’s the first game we’ve specifically marketed to businesses where adults gather to have fun – such as bars and restaurants.”

Players can find Keno slips at any of the 9,400 PA Lottery retailers. They select between one and 10 numbers, ranging between 1 and 80. Though they can also choose for computer-selected Quick Picks to fill out a slip. From there, players select how much to bet, between $1 and $20, and then wait for the drawing, which occurs every four minutes.

Players can watch drawings on monitors at hundreds of locations throughout the state. Typically you can find them in bars and taverns.

The PA Lottery held relatively high expectations for the first year of Keno, as well as all of its newest offerings. A profit of $9.2 million, arguably, is nothing to scoff at. Though that total fell short of projections.

Keno comes up short of PA Lottery expectations

Initially, the PA Lottery estimated its three new gaming options would combine for $70 million in profits for the first full year.

Of that total, the lottery projected Keno would contribute $27 million. The first two months appeared promising.

Within its first 17 days, the game led to $2 million in sales. From launch to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018, Keno generated $7.6 million in sales. However, the first year brought in roughly one-third of what the lottery thought it would.

As a whole, the PA Lottery reported a record $4.2 billion in sales and more than $1 billion in revenue. Svitko singled out Keno, as well as PA iLottery, as contributors to the lottery’s success during that period.

“These encouraging results show that our ongoing modernization efforts are succeeding,” Svitko said last fall.

PA Lottery reflects on Keno shortcomings

Keno entered a world teeming with regulated competition. Yet Keno’s greatest foe is an unregulated and illegal line of products: those so-called “games of skill.”

A PA Lottery spokesperson told PlayPennsylvania, those illegal games have infringed on the potential growth of the lottery’s offerings, including Keno.

“Unregulated Games of Skill machines in bars and taverns have hampered the Lottery’s efforts to expand the number of monitor games locations. In many cases, the Lottery is competing against the skill machines for limited space. Because skill machines are unregulated, the companies can offer bar and tavern owners better deals.”

A team of economists had already estimated that the PA Lottery loses some $95 million in scratch-off sales annually because of the presence of illegal games. Certainly, they impact the expansion and rise of Keno, as those unregulated games of skill take up space in areas where the PA Lottery’s monitor games would reside.

With the number of illegal games on skill on the rise in the state, this is an issue of growing concern not just to the PA Lottery, but to the state’s entire gambling industry.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.

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