Electronic Pulltabs Move Ahead, With Concerns Remaining

Sample electronic pulltab device

Minnesota charities could begin rolling out electronic pulltab and bingo games this fall, although concerns remain that could slow their acceptance.

“This isn’t an industry that embraces change,” Executive Director King Wilson of Allied Charities told the Minnesota Gambling Control board Monday.

In an interview, Wilson said that even though state lawmakers passed a bill allowing electronic pulltab and bingo games, with some profits funding a Minnesota Vikings football stadium, “a lot of misunderstanding” exists.

One of charities’ concerns is how much the new devices will cost, Wilson said. Another concern is whether charities can afford to try the devices. The charitable organizations sought a cut in the taxes they pay to the state, but lawmakers approved a smaller tax cut than sought, Wilson added.

The gambling board Monday began to take steps to move electronic gambling forward.

The board unanimously adopted a set of standards for the electronic games, such as requiring that any ports on the electronic devices be disabled to ensure people cannot rig the games and establishing guidelines for how games should look. The board also approved beginning a rule-making process that would provide a more formal avenue for public input.

A Las Vegas game maker became the first to win the board’s approval to make electronic games to be used by Minnesota charities.

Board Executive Director Tom Barrett said electronic games could begin to appear in October, although the founder of the Las Vegas company, John Acres, said he could be ready a month sooner. Acres said he could have 10,000 iPad-based game devices in bars across the state within six months.

Minnesota charities long have sought permission to add electronic games on the theory that they would attract more users, especially young ones, than the current paper pulltabs.

Lawmakers this spring adopted the electronic game request, with some of the profits designated to fund Vikings stadium construction.

But because the tax cut was less than sought, Wilson said, many of his members plan to watch others who go electronic early before deciding if they will add the devices, too.

State officials estimate that eventually 2,500 electronic pulltabs games and 1,500 bingo devices will be spread across Minnesota’s 2,900 charitable gaming sites.

Some gambling industry representatives asked the board to slow things down for more input and deliberation. The board’s decision was to establish immediate standards, which can be changed at any time, and later develop more concrete rules.

Barrett said the rule-making process could take months.

Gambling board members said they needed to act fast because state political leaders want money to begin going to the stadium.

About $60 million a year is predicted in new charitable gambling revenues for the stadium. The state already gets nearly $40 million a year for the general fund from pulltabs.

“The ship has sailed,” board member William Gillespie said. “We’re moving now. We didn’t pick the departure date; it was picked by the Legislature.”

Jon Weaver of Express Games MN, which will distribute Acres’ devices, praised the board, saying its Monday actions will help deliver the wishes of Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters in producing jobs.

But Fabian Hoffman, an attorney representing game distributor 3 Diamond, called the board action “illegal rule making. … I don’t know why the board would cut corners.”