Published: February 11, 2018

New Jersey considers overhauling keno-style lottery game

TRENTON, N.J.— New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday considered overhauling a new keno-style lottery game that the bill's sponsor worries will draw business away from Atlantic City's casinos.

The Democrat-led Assembly gaming committee heard testimony on legislation that would essentially gut how Quick Draw is played, reducing its drawings from every five minutes to just twice daily.

The legislation comes about six months after the lottery, which has struggled to meet revenue projections in recent years, unveiled the game, promising it would net about $20 million in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Committee chairman Ralph Caputo said lawmakers got little notice about the game from former Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration, and they're concerned the game could hurt Atlantic City gambling houses.

"It's a sensitive issue. We're talking about market share in gaming," said Caputo, a co-sponsor of the bill. "Anytime there's a new game it could take market share away from an existing casino."

Spokeswomen with the lottery and state Treasury department, which oversee the game, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lottery and Treasury representatives did not testify at the hearing.

The Christie administration announced the game last April, and playing began in bars and restaurants in August. Through December it has brought it under $5 million.

Just two people testified on the measure. Bob Marshall, the legislative affairs director of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, supports the bill. He said the game essentially expands casino-style gaming.

Diane Weiss, executive director of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, opposed the bill, saying Quick Draw has been good for the vendors she represents. She said the game has encouraged people to order more food and drinks at restaurants where it's played.

The game's rollout last year appeared to be an about-face for the Christie administration, which in 2015 agreed to a rewritten contract with the private firm running part of the lottery on the grounds that the state denied video-monitor games. The redrawn contract meant the company could get bonuses for hitting lower revenue targets. But once the game was approved, those targets were not raised.

While the public stands to benefit if Quick Draw increases lottery revenues, gains may not be as high as they could have been.

Christie and the Legislature last year also transferred the lottery, valued at about $13 billion to the state's troubled public pension fund. The move was designed to lower the pension's unfunded liability, which the Christie administration estimated at around $50 billion. The move means that the lottery is indirectly helping public pensioners.

Players can purchase a Quick Draw play for a $1 minimum up to a $10 maximum. Prizes range from $1 up to $1,000,000 depending on the purchase amount.

Players select from 1 to 10 numbers out of a pool of 80 numbers. The odds and potential prizes are determined by the quantity of spots selected. Players win by matching some or all of their numbers to the 20 numbers drawn.

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