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Selectmen Concerned Keno Monitor Could Make Richdale 'One Step Shy of a Casino-Type Operation'

Wenham officials are considering a proposal from Richdale and the state Lottery Commission to install a Keno monitor in the convenience store in West Wenham.

The addition of a Keno monitor at the in Wenham could mean the store could become “one step shy of a casino-type operation,” according to one selectman.

Wenham Selectman Patrick Wilson said Tuesday that the Board of Selectmen has a responsibility to look out for the residents of the neighborhood around the store on Topsfield Road in West Wenham, at the intersection with Maple Street. Wilson’s comments came on the eve of the deadline for the Selectmen to opine on a proposal from Richdale and the state Lottery Commission to install a Keno monitor, a table and six chairs in the store.

“I’m concerned about the impact this would have on the character of the store and the neighborhood,” Wilson said.

Interim Town Administrator Mark Andrews said the proposal for one table and six chairs was based on a recommendation from the building inspector after looking at the area near the front of the store where the monitor would be installed.

“It would certainly add a different dimension to the store than we have currently,” said Andrews said.

The Board voted 3-0 on Tuesday to ask the Lottery Commission to extend the deadline for a response from the town. That letter was sent on Wednesday and an extension was granted to June 30, according to Lisa McDonald, a Lottery spokesman. If the town had not responded, the proposal for a Keno monitor would have automatically moved forward.

“I think it is going to bear some more careful scrutiny,” said Selectman Ken Whittaker.

If the board ends up objecting, the Lottery Commission would schedule a hearing where it would take a closer look at the proposal.

“We are doing this with great sensitivity,” McDonald said. “We don’t want to be in a town that opposes it.”

The board is hoping to hear from neighbors and residents when it meets next on June 19. Board Chairman Molly Martins said the Selectmen hope to get more information about the application and consider some restrictions for the Keno operation, if it is approved.

Under state law, the hours of operation of Keno are noon to 1 a.m.

“The time of operation might be a good place to start,” Whittaker said, in regard to possible restrictions.

Tom Truax, a Salem attorney that represents Richdale owner Albert Abdelmalak, said his primary work has been on – an entirely separate issue.

But Truax said he has been briefed on the Keno proposal and said that the police and other town officials came into the store to look at the area where the monitor is proposed to be set up.

“I haven’t heard of any town where this is an issue,” Truax said.

The monitor would be inside the store and visible only from inside the store.

Right now, the store sells “Keno to Go” tickets, where customers can buy a Keno ticket but have to go home and watch the bouncing balls that are part of the game on the computer to see if they won.

Instead, a new monitor would allow a customer to buy a ticket and then sit or stand in the store and watch the balls.

Ken Walsh, who has visited Richdale to see the area where the monitor would be installed, said he checked with other towns about the impact of Keno monitors. He was told that it might create a little bit more traffic and cause people to stay at the store a little longer, but “nothing significant.”

The proposed operation may look similar to setups in two convenience stores in Beverly - North Beverly Food Mart on Dodge Street and Shop and Go on Essex Street, according to lottery officials. Both stores were issued in-store Keno monitors in the 1990s during a previous window of time where convenience stores were allowed to install monitors.

Traditionally, Keno has been played only in “pouring establishments” since it was introduced in the state about 20 years ago. Richdale is one of a handful of lottery agents in the region that were selected by the Lottery Commission as  atop a candidate to install a Keno monitor, McDonald said. The commission has criteria used to select the locations that include prohibiting it within a mile of a school.

The expansion of Keno in the state, which began last year, is known as “expanded Keno.”

Until 2007, 1,200 of the state’s 7,200 lottery agents had Keno. When “Keno to Go” was added, that added another 3,883 agents with “Keno to Go.” The proposed expansion of Keno monitors into convenience stores includes 683 locations statewide, McDonald said, or about 10 percent of the total number of lottery agents.

Keno is the Lottery’s second most lucrative product, behind scratch tickets, McDonald said, with gross revenue of $768 million last year.

If approved at Richdale, the Keno monitor would not have an expiration date for renewal, said Andrews. Instead, Lottery Commission staff would monitor it.

“The town can monitor it as well and have a dialogue with the Lottery Commission,” Andrews said.

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