Minnesota charities hope for more electronic gambling optionsMinnesota gambling managers are in Duluth this week for their annual convention, and they’re watching to see if some additional video pull-tab games will be approved soon by the state.
By: Jean Hopfensperger, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minnesota gambling managers are in Duluth this week for their annual convention, and they’re watching to see if some additional video pull-tab games will be approved soon by the state.
About $2 million has been spent on video pull-tab games in the past few months, games that are eventually supposed to fund the state’s share of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. The Northland saw its first electronic games in October. But so far, just one game manufacturer and one vendor have been allowed to operate here, a unique situation in state gambling history.
Six other manufacturers of electronic games are tied up in Minnesota Department of Public Safety background checks. Their wares are on display in Duluth this weekend during the gambling convention.
Until some more games are approved, participants say, the potential for funding the Vikings stadium remains in second gear because many charities are holding back.
“Some of our members are saying they want choice before they make a decision (on the game),” said Al Lund,
executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, the umbrella organization for charitable gambling groups. “As a community, we are excited about electronics, but we want to see more options.”
The 22nd annual Minnesota Lawful Gambling Convention and Expo began Thursday morning and will run through Saturday morning.
It will be the most topical convention in a while as the state gears up for more electronic pull-tab sites. Other gambling device options also will be on display at an exhibition during the convention.
Lester Bagley, the vice president of public affairs and stadium development for the Minnesota Vikings, will be the keynote speaker at the convention banquet tonight.
The Minnesota Gambling Control Board, which also is meeting today in Duluth, has no new manufacturers of electronic games slated for approval, said Tom Barrett, executive director of the board.
The board is expected to approve several more games from Acres 4.0 and Express Games MN, the sole manufacturer and vendor operating in the state. That includes two new games for the iPad tablets now in use at bars and restaurants statewide, and five more games for a new iPod Touch system.
Other game manufacturers are waiting. Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Doug Neville said at least three manufacturers submitted applications to the Gambling Control Board in July and August and await background checks.
Proceeds from charitable gambling are expected to pay the state’s $350 million share of the $1 billion Vikings stadium.
Crimp on pulltab sales?
Gambling leaders such as Lund say that, ideally, the state would have had several vendors lined up when it launched electronic gaming. But in the rush to start cranking out money for the Vikings stadium, waiting apparently wasn’t an option, gambling leaders say. The pulltab vendors that have been doing business in Minnesota for decades weren’t prepared to launch new electronic games.
“So this has been like drips coming out of the faucet, rather than the faucet turned on full bore,” Lund said.
Meanwhile, gambling vendors long registered in Minnesota say that even if the charities they work with want electronic pulltab games, they have nothing to offer them.
“Until we have a product (to sell), we’re just biding our time,” said Mike Rizzi, vice president of the Fridley-based Pulltabs Plus.
Jon Weaver, president of Express Games MN, said he agrees there should be more competition. But he doesn’t think his company should be criticized for being prepared from the get-go. He also noted that his contracts with charities let them switch vendors with a 30-day notice, allowing them to try new products as competition moves in.
Some of that competition will be on hand today in Duluth, when up to five electronic games manufacturers will demonstrate their products, said Lund. Lund said he is “keeping his fingers crossed” that the Gambling Control Board will approve some new players.
More than 1,200 charitable gambling officials from across the state are expected to attend the convention, one the Allied Charities of Minnesota group calls the largest of its kind in the nation.
Meetings will include setting legislative priorities for 2013 and 14 seminars on gambling issues in the state.