Electronic pull tabs spark little interest in Duluth barsElectronic pull tabs were envisioned by state legislators as a way to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The Buffalo House just outside of Duluth was hopping early Sunday afternoon, with a softball tournament on the ball diamonds and the Vikings-Bears football game on the big-screen TV in the bar.
Burgers and beer were moving fast, and bartenders and waitresses were busy keeping patrons happy.
But sitting on the bar, not far from the cash register, the bar’s electronic gambling iPads were in sleep mode, gathering dust. As usual, bar patrons were choosing to play with their own smartphones, or maybe buy a paper pull tab. But they weren’t interested in the electronic pull tab games.
“That’s the way it usually is,” Buffalo House bartender Chris Simmer said. “Someone might put $20 in, and a couple people will play a few games. Then they can go two weeks without anyone touching them.
“They just haven’t caught on like I think some people expected they would,” he added.
The state-sanctioned electronic gambling setup came with a base station and five iPads for people to play on at the bar or sitting at tables. Patrons can tap an app and a waitress or bartender will collect cash to get the games going. But for people who like to gamble, Simmer said, many would rather play old-fashioned paper pull tabs, which the bar also offers in a vending machine.
“People who gamble know that the pull tabs list the winners (winning tickets) that are still in the bin. With the electronic games, there’s no way to know what’s still available or not,” he said.
Electronic pull tabs were envisioned by state legislators as a way to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium. When the stadium bill was approved, there were estimates that 2,500 bars would install more than 15,000 games across Minnesota, with the money split between local charities and building the new downtown Minneapolis stadium for the Vikings. A year after the games first appeared, they’re installed in only about 300 bars, with about 1,300 total games.
Some bar owners have been reluctant to front money for installation. Others note there’s a monthly cost for a dedicated Internet connection.
Lynn Tarnowski, manager at Mitch’s Bar in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, said there are some regulars who play the electronic games regularly, but she said paper pull tabs remain more popular.
“I think people like to have their hands on the paper. They still like the pull tabs,” she said. “We get a few people who come in and play them (electronic games). But then they sit there for a long time with nobody playing.”
Both the Buffalo House and Mitch’s gaming operations are sponsored by the Irving Community Association. The association has paper pull tabs in 18 establishments across Duluth, and 10 of those also have electronic pull tabs, said Genny Hinnenkamp, gambling manager for the association.
So far, paper pull tabs remain far more popular and more profitable, she said.
“I think paper always will be more popular. People are used to them. And they think their odds of winning are better, which really isn’t the case,” Hinnenkamp said.
She said that she expects video bingo, which she plans to have in local bars by January, will increase the popularity of electronic gambling locally.
“There’s been a lot of bad press on the electronic games and that doesn’t help any,” Hinnenkamp said. “But I think the electronic games will catch on. It’s just going to take time.”
Jerry Janezich, co-owner of Tom & Jerry’s bar in Chisholm, said his patrons started fast with the electronic pull tabs. But that quick start didn’t last.
“Did it slow down a lot? Yes. But I still believe it has promise,” said Janezich, a former state senator. “It will take a while. A lot of people really don’t know about it yet.”