By Starrla Cray
McLEOD, WRIGHT, CARVER COUNTIES, MN For many area gambling managers, electronic pulltabs aren’t a bet they’re willing to put money on quite yet.
“I’m not in a big hurry to get them,” said Elaine Kahle, gambling manager for Holy Trinity Schools in Winsted.
About 2,700 establishments in Minnesota sell paper pulltabs, and so far, only 170 have added the electronic version. Most are in larger cities, such as St. Paul (18 sites) Duluth (seven sites), and Minneapolis (four sites).
A few places closer to home include Maple Lake Bowl, Medina Entertainment Center, Lano Lanes in Norwood Young America, River Lanes in St. Michael, and Lucky’s 13 Pub in Plymouth.
“I know we were the first to have them in Wright County,” said former state senator Amy Koch, who purchased Maple Lake Bowl and Pines Bar and Grill about two months ago.
Maple Lake Bowl receives 15 percent of the profit from e-pulltab sales, vs. 20 percent from paper sales. The first month, the bar’s electronic profit was $200.
“I’m hoping it’ll earn more,” she said. “At $200 a month, it’ll take a long time to pay off that initial investment.”
Equipment cost was about $1,000 up front, plus a wireless fee of $15 per month.
Paul Lano from Lano Lanes in Norwood Young America said he hopes sales will pick up when bingo is added to the list of games.
The linked bingo games are expected to have much bigger payouts for players. If one bingo game has no winner, the money will roll over into the next game, according to an article from the Echo Press in Alexandria.
E-pulltabs were first introduced in Minnesota bars in September 2012, with five games, such as “Treasures of the Jungle” and “Mystic Sevens.” Since that time, two new games have been added.
“It’s like a slot machine,” Koch said. “I like paper pulltabs, but these are a little more exciting. There are bonus games, and winnings can be automatically deposited back in. Players can also cash out at any time.”
First-time players may need a short explanation, but Koch said e-pulltab devices are very simple to use, especially for people who are familiar with iPads.
“Some people really, really like them. Others don’t care for them as much,” Koch said.
Taxes on e-pulltabs were projected to cover debt service on the state’s $348 million Vikings stadium contribution. However, the Star Tribune reported Feb. 18 that Minnesotans had only spent about $6.6 million on the electronic games so far. In the same time frame, they spent $500 million on the paper version.
“It seemed like an awful big gamble for the state,” Kahle said.
The gambling distributor Kahle works with advised against getting e-pulltabs, saying that he only sees them working well in bigger cities with high levels of gambling.
Although they might not be viable everywhere, e-pulltabs may draw in additional players who wouldn’t normally use the paper version, according to a Feb. 16 article in the Fairmont Sentinel.
“We have a lot of Vikings fans who come in and want to support the stadium,” the owner of Aajax Likker (a bar in Northop) stated in the article.
“We have sold more electronic pulltabs [in five days] than we have paper ones in two weeks,” the bar manager added.
Some people try e-pulltabs as a novelty, but might not plan to keep playing it, according to Kahle.
“I’m not looking at getting it anytime soon, probably not at all,” Kahle said. “If I thought it was going to increase sales, that’d be different.”
For the Cokato Fire Department, paper pulltabs have been a reliable source of revenue for more than a decade, and gambling manager Keith Asfeld sees no reason to add an electronic option.
“We maybe make $1,000 per month,” he said. “All the money stays in town; we put everything back into the fire department.”
Both paper and electronic pulltabs are taxed, but with electronic ones, the tax is allocated to the stadium.
“I can maybe see it if you lived in Minneapolis, but that doesn’t help Cokato,” Asfeld said. “There are only so many dollars to go around for gambling.”
Frank Muckenhirn, gambling manager for the Knights of Columbus in Delano, has a similar viewpoint.
“At this point, I don’t think we’re too interested, but I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, either,” he said. “Would I look at getting it? Certainly. If they convince me that it’s good for me, then I might be interested in it.”
What are e-pulltabs?
Electronic pulltabs (e-pulltabs) are gambling games played using a handheld device similar to a tablet computer.
Like paper pulltabs, the electronic version has a pre-determined prize value and fixed number of chances to win.
Taxes from e-pulltab sales help fund the new Vikings stadium.