Minnesota’s charities, bars, and restaurants are under attack.

Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, is leading a charge at the state Capitol this session to eliminate electronic pull tabs and the essential funding their sales provide to our state’s local charities, bars, and restaurants. Local veterans’ groups and youth sports now rely on proceeds from electronic pull tabs (or e-tabs) and linked bingo to fulfill their missions.

Bakk is lead author of a bill specifying that games “may only display symbols typically associated with paper pull-tab tickets, may not include continuation play, bonus games, or additional screens … and may not display or simulate any other form of gambling, entertainment, slot machines, electronic video lotteries, or video games of chance.”

The bill would mean e-gaming in its current form would be illegal across the entire state of Minnesota. This would wipe out millions of dollars in annual revenues to numerous charities that help their communities through their missions and also to bars and restaurants that rely on revenue from electronic gaming to help keep the lights on and to pay their employees.

As the Aurora American Legion Post #241 gambling manager, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the proceeds from e-tabs and linked bingo have helped our organization fulfill its mission of helping veterans and our local community.

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Why would Sen. Bakk push such legislation?

In 2012, the Legislature created e-tabs and linked bingo as a way to fund the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium. In the nine years since Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill establishing e-tabs, the state’s tribes have sought to do away with e-tabs through litigation and legislation. When they failed to kill e-tabs through the legal system, their allies in the Legislature pushed to eliminate electronic gaming.

Consider the devastating consequences of this legislation for local charities, bars, and restaurants. Keep in mind that these numbers come from those who seek to terminate electronic gaming in Minnesota.

First, the fiscal note for the House bill (H.F. 2366) details that, “All existing electronic pull-tab and linked bingo games will be prohibited under the proposed language. Therefore, all revenue ($1.3 billion per year) will be eliminated on those games.”

Second, the fiscal note states that, “Local bars selling electronic games will lose revenue,” estimated at $29 million annually, and that, “Local wages for those conducting lawful gambling will be reduced” by an estimated $35.75 million annually.

Third, the fiscal note states that, “Available funds for lawful (charitable) purposes will be reduced” by about $33 million per year.

Mike Jennings is the owner of three restaurants in the western Twin Cities and is a board member for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. He is right when he says that this bill makes no sense, especially in light of the pandemic-related slowdown our hospitality industry has endured over the last year. “It’s just going to be another devastating blow to our industry,” he said, according to a Minnesota House report.

Minnesota’s charities and their small-business partners need the revenues provided by e-tabs and linked bingo now more than ever. The pandemic has crushed charitable receipts, and many of our bars and restaurants are on life support. Kicking them in the teeth by eliminating e-tabs and linked bingo is the last thing they need right now.

My appreciation goes out to Reps. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, and Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, for opposing H.F. 2366 in the House.

Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, voted in favor of H.F. 2366 and needs to hear from those who strongly oppose it. Opponents additionally can call Sens. Bakk and Tomassoni to voice their opposition to this deeply flawed legislation.

Our local charities, communities, bars, and restaurants are counting on us to stand up for them.

Steve Biondich is the gambling manager for American Legion Post 241 in Aurora.