The small-town bar and restaurant where customers hit it big last fall when a keno machine malfunctioned is up for sale.
It’s a squat red building on Nebraska 41, just across from the Midwest Farmers Co-op in the village of St. Mary.
Susan Goracke reopened the bar on Nov. 11, 2011, and dubbed it Smartville Station, after the town's original name. Her parents had owned the bar in the 1970s, and Goracke has turned it into an informal town museum. Its walls are covered with pictures, news articles and jerseys of local -- and now mostly gone -- sports teams.
Last fall, sometime around Halloween, one of Goracke’s customers figured out the bar’s keno machine was repeating certain numbers in a pattern.
Keno machines are supposed to randomly generate winning numbers. Players try to guess the numbers and place bets. If they guess right, they win money.
News of the winning numbers spread among Smartville Station customers. Goracke estimates they won about $150,000.
But after the first couple big winners cashed their tickets, alarm bells began to sound for the company that owns the machines and doles out the prizes, Cass County Keno LLC. The company shut down the machine and pulled it from the bar.
The Nebraska Charitable Gaming Division investigated and found a software glitch had caused the machine to malfunction.
One Smartville Station employee has been charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly playing keno while working, which is illegal and punishable by up to a year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine.
Johnson County Attorney Rick Smith said no other charges have been filed.
Cass County Keno wrote checks to the big winners from last fall but capped the amount of winnings it paid out at $25,000 per day. The restriction is in its rulebook and was approved by the state Charitable Gaming Division, said Jeff Silver, an Omaha attorney representing Cass County Keno.
If winnings exceed the daily cap, as was the case with Smartville Station, then the winners each get a percentage of the $25,000 based on the size of their jackpot.
Meanwhile, Smartville Station is without a keno machine, which has been a significant financial blow, Goracke said.
Before the machine was taken away in early November, she brought in about $1,000 a month directly from keno, plus the game brought customers into the bar. Without it, business has been down significantly.
Last month, she posted an online ad listing her bar and three-bedroom home in St. Mary for sale, asking $75,000 for both. Goracke said she has gotten a couple inquiries, but without keno she has been unable to show the kind of revenue that a potential buyer would want to see.
Businesses that want to operate keno games have to work through a city or county government to get a machine from a third-party vendor like Cass County Keno.
Cass County Keno, which wants nothing to do with Smartville Station, has an exclusive contract with the Johnson County Board of Commissioners to provide keno services, a contract Goracke encouraged the county to sign in 2012.
Now Goracke is asking the county board to break its contract and find a different company to provide the service so she can get keno back.
So far, commissioners have been reluctant to do so.
Sidelines Steak & Sports in Cook also has keno and breaking the contract with Cass County Keno could jeopardize their deal, said Commissioner Monty Gottula.
“We’d like to see her (Goracke) get another keno operator, as long as she is able to be licensed by the state of Nebraska,” Gottula said.
The Nebraska Charitable Gaming Division requires businesses to have a keno operator sponsor their license applications or renewals.
Goracke’s keno license expires May 31. If she has keno back by then, she can apply to renew the license. If it remains down, she will lose the license and have to start the application process from scratch.