In another effort to bounce back from a drop in sales last year, the Massachusetts State Lottery plans to offer "Keno-to-go," which will make the game much more widely available and allow players to almost instantaneously check their numbers over the Internet, eliminating the need for a television monitor.
Since the mid-1990s, only establishments that serve alcoholic beverages have been eligible for Keno licenses. The move announced yesterday will give all lottery agents the chance to apply to sell Keno and could result in thousands of new establishments offering the game.
The additional sales should net an extra $20 million a year for cities and towns, officials said.
Keno-to-go is the latest effort to boost lottery sales, which provide crucial financial aid to cities and towns across the state. The lottery is expected to pump more than $900 million in profits into local governments this year. But it saw an unusual decline in sales in fiscal 2007.
To bolster revenue, lottery officials have been inventing new twists on old games. A $20 instant-win ticket introduced last year has been a hit, helping to boost overall sales by about 6 percent so far this year.
Anemic sales in fiscal 2007 and overly optimistic budget projections have left the state with lottery revenue shortfalls in both fiscal 2007 and the current fiscal year, forcing state officials to look elsewhere for the Lottery aid they promised to communities.
Mark Cavanagh, the lottery's executive director, said he hopes efforts like Keno-to-go could help change that picture.
Cavanagh said lottery agents so far have welcomed the announcement of Keno-to-go, signaling their interest in joining the new program.
Cavanagh acknowledged that some agents who already sell Keno may be concerned about additional competition, but he said those agents would also probably sell additional tickets to customers who would like to play without having to wait around.
In a normal Keno game, players select numbers, then watch a computer monitor in the establishment where they are playing to see if they have chosen the winning numbers.
In Keno-to-go, players could select their numbers, go home, and check the Internet to see if they have won.
The lottery already allows Keno players to check their numbers on masslottery.com, the state lottery website, but the numbers are posted several hours after the draw, said Dan Rosenfeld, a lottery spokesman. Keno-to-go, he said, would put the numbers on the Internet almost immediately.
Whether the new game will catch on, however, remains to be seen. It appears to be untested. Cavanagh said he got the idea for Keno-to-go from the Maryland lottery, which is still in the process of implementing it, and he did not think any other state offers it.
"I prefer just sitting here watching it," said Billie-Jo Rogers, 37, of South Boston, as she waited for the numbers to pop up on the screen at a West Broadway convenience store yesterday afternoon. "That's the fun of it."
When Keno was introduced in Massachusetts in 1993, Rosenfeld said, any lottery agent could apply to sell tickets; in the mid-1990s, the lottery decided to award new licenses only to "pouring establishments," or those that serve alcoholic beverages. Just 1,776 of the state's 7,500 lottery agents sell Keno tickets.
Jim Fallon, owner of P.S. Gourmet Coffee in South Boston, which sells a variety of lottery products, said he had just heard about Keno-to-go and had not decided whether to apply to sell the new game.
But he said he liked the state's decision to make the game available to establishments that do not serve alcohol.
"It does open up competition for all of us," he said.