Taking a chance on new game of chance

Bayport American Legion post brings electronic pull-tabs to Valley

Gazette photo by Erik Sandin
Linda Dormann, left, watches as Dave Garravalia explains how to use the state’s new electronic pull-tab game Wednesday at Woody’s Bar and Grill in Bayport. Wednesday was the first day the game could be played at Woody’s and bar manager Mary Tickner said customers were interested in playing one of the bar’s four e-pull-tab games.

BAYPORT — Minnesota’s newest form of gambling is ready to go online in the St. Croix Valley.

The Hesley Jensen American Legion Post No. 491 has rental agreements with three area bars to install electronic pull-tab games as soon as the game’s distributor can install the dedicated cable for the games at the establishments.

Marian Coffman, the post’s gambling manager, said the organization has its e-pull tab license and first electronic pull-tab site selected.

“Woody’s (Bar and Grill) is going to be our first,” she said, adding that the post plans to have e-pull tab operations at The Post in Bayport and Sal’s Angus Grill in Withrow. Three other bars are holding off from getting the machines, she noted.

“My other three bars, I think they’re waiting to see how this goes,” she said.

Electronic pull-tabs were approved earlier this year by the state legislature as a way to help fund the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium adjacent to the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Coffman said revenue generated from the e-pull tabs, like money from the post’s traditional paper pull-tabs, is divided. Eight-five percent of revenue goes back to players as prizes. The remaining 15 percent is divided among the state, e-pull tab distributor, city of Bayport, bar owners as rent and charities, leaving about 10 cents on the dollar to the non-profit group to pay expenses, she added.

According to figures from the Allied Charities of Minnesota, gross receipts from charitable gaming in 2009 were nearly $1 billion. After prizes paid out, net receipts were more than $183 million, with a net profit of nearly $80 million.

From that $80 million, more than $36.622 million was paid in taxes, leaving more than $43 million given in charitable contributions, according to ACM’s figures.

Coffman adds that since 2006, the Bayport post’s charitable gaming has contributed more than $300,000 to wide range of St. Croix Valley charities and groups.

Coffman said there are several reasons why the rollout of e-pull tabs has been slow. The state has only approved one manufacturer and one distributor for the iPads used in the game, she notes. And state regulations regarding the setup of e-pull tabs are locations are numerous.

“The bar has to have a (gambling) permit through their city,” she said. “Because it’s Wi-Fi, it (the connection) has to be secure for this purpose. The state regulates this heavily down to every detail.”

And like paper pull-tabs, e-pull tabs have play limits of 50 cents and $1 and $2, according to Coffman

“You pay cash. It’s all cash,” she said. “The state does mandate limits.”

E-pull tab players buy credits from a bar employee to play the game, Coffman said. Because the game is so new, she does not know what the game’s payouts are.

“I honestly don’t know what prize top they’re paying,” she said.

In fact, Coffman said e-pull tabs could be the first of several games bars with the system’s iPads could offer.

“This is so preliminary. There’s going to be a lot of add-on games. Bingo is going to be played,” she said.

Coffman said several bars in St. Paul and Minneapolis have e-pull tabs and the response from customers has been brisk.

“As they’re the only one’s dealing with it, they’re flooded,” she said.

Coffman expects the Bayport post’s machines will attract interest once they go online.

“They wanted it immediately,” she said about the bars where the post’s e-pull tab machines will be installed. “They’re excited. It’s the curiosity factor.”

Coffman also believes the machines will attract younger players who have grown up on electronic games.

“If you go to the casinos, it’s a lot of young people (there),” she said. “If there’s an increase in revenue for our charities, it’s because we’re going to draw a younger customer.”

Coffman also hopes e-pull tabs will not pull players away from the traditional paper pull-tabs.

“I could see where the bulk of gambling could go electronic in the next decade,” she said. “But there’s a customer base that wants paper (pull tabs). I don’t think it’s going to eliminate paper pull-tabs.

Instead, Coffman see the new e-pull tabs bringing in new players intrigued about the game and excited that it’s linked to the Vikings.

“The only way it can increase the amount that goes to charities is to increase the volume,” she said. “We need people who to go casinos to go to bars. With electronic gaming, even though the hubbub is about the stadium, the money goes back to the local community. They save pop-tops for schools. We support the schools.”