By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Pull-tabs are no longer being sold at the Dodge House in Lester Prairie, but this is not due to impropriety in the Lester Prairie Fire Department Relief Association charitable gambling operation, according to state gambling officials.
Rumors about what happened have been circulating in the city, but the rumors have proved to be untrue.
Although an investigation did take place, the association’s decision to get out of the gambling business was based on nothing more sinister than diminishing revenue and a lack of volunteers to administer the program.
Cliff Emmert, special agent with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, said he investigated an “alleged misuse of funds,” but said the allegations were unfounded.
Emmert explained that when his agency is called in to conduct an investigation, it often results in criminal charges, but agents found nothing in Lester Prairie that could lead to charges.
“Absolutely not,” Emmert said. “There was no criminal activity. The allegations were untrue.”
Gary Danger of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, which licenses charitable gambling operations, also confirmed that his agency is not involved in any cases or investigations involving the Lester Prairie relief association.
The relief association’s charitable gambling operation involved pull-tabs that were sold at the Dodge House.
The gambling enforcement division investigated the operation in Lester Prairie July 17.
Emmert said when agents left the city, they were completely satisfied that there was nothing improper with the operation.
He said that it was his understanding that the relief association decided to get out of gambling, and voluntarily turned in its gambling permit the following week, possibly because they decided there were too many regulations.
He also noted that gambling proceeds are down all around the state, and this may have been a factor in the decision.
In response to a question about rumors that the association incurred fines or penalties, Emmert said agents did not find anything that could have led to charges or penalties.
He emphasized the fact that the association’s decision to get out of gambling was voluntary and not based on any requirement from the state.
“That is absolutely right,” confirmed Andy Heimerl, who is CEO of the association’s gambling operation.
He explained that the group was not taking in enough money to make it worthwhile.
“As a group, the relief association made less than $10,000 last year,” Heimerl said. “Lester Prairie has never been as profitable as other locations.”
In addition to declining proceeds, time to administer the operation was also a factor.
“As mayor, I don’t have the time to put into it,” Heimerl said. “No one else has time, either. No one wanted to step up and run with it, so we decided it was not worth it. It’s not worth the headache.”
Heimerl acknowledged that the end of the pull-tab operation will limit the association’s ability to raise funds.
Other than the annual firemen’s dance, the association has no other fundraisers, Heimerl said.
The only remaining pull-tab operation in Lester Prairie is run by the Lester Prairie Lions at One Eyed Willy’s.
Lions member Joe Miller said the group will probably “give serious consideration” to adding pull-tabs at the Dodge House during the group’s Thursday, Aug. 6 meeting, but he added that the gambling manager is a volunteer who is already busy, and the group may not want to take on another site.
In Minnesota, charitable gambling permits are issued by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, which regulates the five forms of legal gambling in the state (pull-tabs, raffles, bingo, tip boards, and paddle wheels).
The Minnesota Gambling Control Board is also responsible for civil actions related to gambling.
Criminal investigations and prosecutions are handled by the Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Control Division.