COLUMBUS, Neb. -- Platte County residents, like Nebraskans across the state, are spending more money for a chance to match their lucky keno numbers or peel open a top-prize pickle card.
The Nebraska Department of Revenue's annual charitable gaming report shows players spent $247.3 million on keno, pickle cards, bingo and raffles during the fiscal year ended June 30. Total wagers on the games, which must financially benefit nonprofit entities, increased 2.85 percent from the 2010-11 amount of $240.46 million, according to the report released Monday.
Although the report shows the games kick back roughly the same amounts for prizes between 70 and 77 percent of wagers, except for raffles, which returned just 33 percent gamblers continue to have a strong preference for a lottery-type system popularized in taverns across the state.
Keno, an electronic game played by selecting a combination of 80 numbers, accounted for $203.8 million of the state's total wagers last fiscal year. It also showed the biggest gain, taking in 4.1 percent more money than the previous year.
Players spent $28.5 million on pickle cards, $8.1 million on bingo and $6.9 million on raffles, all of which represent year-to-year declines.
The rise of keno as the players' game of choice can also be seen in Platte County, where total spending on charitable gaming jumped 15.6 percent, from $5.37 million to $6.2 million.
Only Buffalo, Douglas, Hall, Lancaster, Lincoln, Sarpy and Scotts Bluff counties took in more charitable gaming wagers than Platte County during 2011-12.
"People have a lot of fun playing keno in Columbus," said Paul Schumacher, who runs Community Lottery Systems with fellow Columbus attorney Bill Kurtenbach.
Keno bets in Platte County increased from $4.09 million to $4.59 million between fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12, far surpassing other games.
Pickle cards came in a distant second, generating $911,413 and $667,171 in sales over the past two years.
In Columbus, keno wagers for the last fiscal year were $4.3 million, up from $3.95 million the year prior. The city currently has 11 businesses licensed for keno, a number that's slowly growing, according to Schumacher.
He said interest in keno has increased along with the price of gasoline and potential jackpots.
With a gallon of unleaded costing more than $3, Schumacher believes Nebraskans are less inclined to make the trip to out-of-state casinos.
"The further you get from those casinos, the better keno is doing," he said.
Keno is allowed in cities, counties and villages that approve it through a popular vote.
According to the Department of Revenue report, 162 counties and communities across the state allow keno and wagers are accepted at 723 locations.
Community Lottery Systems manages keno operations for about 100 communities and counties, including Columbus, which has allowed keno since the early 1990s. By participating in a cooperative and pooling resources, the entities can offer larger paybacks and more easily cover administrative costs, Schumacher said.
Lotto Nebraska, the Community Lottery Systems-run cooperative, has awarded more than $200 million in prizes and the rising figures for these jackpots has proven to be a draw to the games.
Although, Schumacher said the overall number of establishments licensed for keno has stayed consistent over the past several years.
In May 2011, a Columbus man won a $474,478 progressive jackpot at Oasis Bar on 23rd Street, the largest single amount ever awarded at that time by Lotto Nebraska.
Keno payouts statewide totaled $154.69 million in 2011-12 and the game generated nearly 80 percent of Nebraska's $5.1 million in charitable gaming tax receipts, money that's combined with licensing fees to pay for regulatory expenses and Department of Revenue operations and partly fund the state's Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.
Cities and counties also benefit from keno by receiving roughly 10 percent of all wagers.
State law requires this money to be spent on community betterment, Columbus Finance Director Anne Kinnison said, and local officials chose to earmark the funds for improvements at city parks.
Columbus received $443,408 in keno revenues during its fiscal year ended Sept. 30 and Kinnison said that figure has increased each of her 16 years with the city.
"I think it's kind of an indication of the local economy," she said.
Schumacher offered a more simple explanation for the growing interest in charitable gaming.
"People want to be entertained," he said.
Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com