Charities and businesses discuss interest in e-gaming

MARSHALL – About 30 representatives of state government, charities, bar owners and gambling equipment manufacturers met at the Marshall American Legion hall on Wednesday to discuss the future of electronic gambling.

The meeting was the seventh in a series of nine held around the state, sponsored by Allied Charities of Minnesota.

The electronic version of small stakes pull-tab games were supposed to generate the revenue to pay off the state’s share of the cost of the new Vikings stadium, but so far the revenue has been only a 10th of what was projected.

“We worked for electronics three years before it became a reality,” said Allen Lund, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota. “We’re not all happy with the way it turned out, but we look at it as a tool, like paper.”

Chris Mau, compliance supervisor of the state Gambling Control Board, gave a presentation showing where the top grossing electronic pull-tab sites are, and a number of possible reasons the games have not been more popular.

“We’re not trying to eliminate paper games,” Mau said, while providing figures that he said showed paper pull-tab sales do not suffer from competition from electronic games and may in fact increase sales.

According to Mau, the top grossing pull-tab site in the state is Porky’s Bar in St. Paul. Porky’s net revenues amounted to $11,000 in May alone, in an establishment with only 40 seats.

Emily Hagen, revenue tax specialist with the state Department of Revenue, gave a presentation outlining reporting requirements for e-games.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth in electronic pull-tabs in the state,” Hagen said. “We’ve confirmed they don’t grow at the expense of paper games. Organizations with electronic pull-tabs show more growth in gross sales.”

Colin Minehart is executive director of the MLBA Children’s Fund and owns a restaurant and bar in Alden.

“I don’t care about stadiums,” Minehart said, “I care about strong bars and clubs. This is cutting-edge technology. Minnesota is leading the nation.”

According to Lund, this is literally true.

“This had never been done anywhere in the nation,” Lund said. “Virginia passed a law allowing this three years ago and didn’t go live till last December. We needed to get online to pay for the stadium, and we’re still writing the rules. The mistake the government made was, charities aren’t in it to pay for stadiums, they’re in it to support local missions.”

According to Lund, charities see electronic gaming as a valuable tool for raising funds for their missions.

As to why revenues from electronic gaming have been so disappointing, Minehart said, “Direct answer – not in enough sites.”