Game on: New Hampshire businesses welcome 'Keno 603'

in Lottery

At 11:05 a.m. Friday, the owner of an empty Franklin pizza place, still prepping for the upcoming lunch crowd, looked up at a wide-screen TV and ushered in a new era of school funding.

“There it is,” said Jim Gale, owner of JJ’s Woodfired Pizza and Tavern, pointing to a screen full of numbers. “The first game ever.”

Mark the date down, for historical purposes and a trivia answer at a future Saturday night dinner with friends. On Dec. 15, 2017, “Keno 603” arrived, meaning people can now go to bars and restaurants in the Granite State that serve booze and beer, darken a bunch of a numbers on a card using a pencil, and win money.

We no longer have to rely on Massachusetts for this form of fun and funding, and we no longer will forfeit our potential school funding by forking over an estimated $25 million annually to our neighbors to the south.

Seven of the state’s 13 cities offer keno, and other areas will consider adding it when they meet on town meeting day next year. Nearly 40 locations had keno on Day 1, including JJ’s, where I went to witness this spanking-new independent streak of ours first hand.

Gale, born and raised in Boston, has owned JJ’s for nearly four years. He sports a salt-and-pepper goatee that’s about six inches long but used to be a few inches longer, before a “propane puff” near the flame-visible oven facing the entrance got a hold of it.

He was a Merchant Marine for 20 years, and he displays a photo from Hawaii, showing himself posing with President Donald Trump and a bathing suit-clad Miss Budweiser.

He thinks keno will be good for business.

“People have been calling on the phone asking when we’re going to open it,” Gale told me. “I’m looking forward to getting new people in here.”

The keno technology, which includes a behind-the-bar register and a slender kiosk machine on the customer side, was installed two weeks ago.

Gale used to drive to North Andover, Mass., to play keno, stopping for lunch near the border on his way back from picking up supplies in Boston. He said he once won $1,800 in one day, spread over a few games.

He also said he supports keno beyond reasons connected to financial gain.

“It’s great to fund all-day kindergarten,” Gale told me. “There will be a ripple effect for young families to save money on daycare costs.”

Each business will get 8 percent of the profit for its annual $500 investment, while full-day kindergarten will receive approximately $9 million in funding from an estimated pot of $45 to $50 million.

Holly Frederick, JJ’s manager and bartender, wishes this system had been in place when her two boys, now 9 and 15, were growing up. Once upon a time, Frederick paid $180 per week for daycare, and that lasted about three years, she said.

A single mom at the time, that meant a full-time day job with the Laconia Housing Authority, home for dinner with the boys and to help them with homework, then out at night to tend bar.

Translation: a 70-plus hour work week so Frederick could afford daycare costs.

“This is a great idea, and not just for kindergarten,” Frederick said. “A lot of schools in Franklin are hurting.”

From there, Frederick’s words were stunning. She said teachers stop by for lunch and ask to leave donation boxes to collect money for school supplies.

Frederick said she’d then use the money to buy crayons, pencils, notebooks and markers for the teachers to pick up. Doesn’t this stuff come with the territory? Shouldn’t we expect that our children will have these items, if nothing else, when they start school?

“The schools could not afford them,” Frederick told me. “A lot of teachers don’t want to be teachers anymore because of this.”

By 11:15 a.m., local business owner Fred McAllister was sipping a beer and throwing down $20 to play keno for the first time. He likes gambling at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and said, “Those places are too expensive, so I was very excited when I heard about this.”

As for funding kindergarten, McAllister said, “That’s absolutely fantastic. It’s one of the best uses of the money, and I’m glad there is more revenue coming into the state and it’s not happening because I’m required to pay. It’s my choice to pay.”

Chad Carey stopped in for a ham and cheese with mayo and told me, “I love it. They should have brought in the casinos. That’s the ticket, right?”

Some think so, that casino gambling would have funneled an endless stream of cash into the state, making what we’ll get from keno look like chump change. But concerns over gambling addiction and the potential for an influx of riffraff into our high-brow population nixed that idea, so keno is the way we’re going.

Now we wait for dollar figures and other data to tell us what effect this new form of entertainment has had on the region. How much will this impact keno in Massachusetts? Will dollar figures projected to pay for kindergarten prove accurate? Will kindergarten even have a positive impact on the educational system in the state? After all, some believe kindergarten is nothing more than merely a glorified daycare system.

One thing’s for sure:

“I can lose money here just as easily as in Massachusetts,” noted Paul Davidson, who’s close friends with Gale. “Plus this way, I can save some money in gas.”