As Electronic Pull Tabs Lag, Traditional Gaming Thrives

Updated: 07/25/2014 6:51 PM
Created: 07/25/2014 7:33 AM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- It's no secret that electronic pull tabs have been a disappointment for Minnesota lawmakers who hoped the games would generate major revenue for the state.

Now it appears things are even worse, but despite the setback, charitable gaming is still thriving in Minnesota.

Electronic pull tabs were supposed to pay for a major portion of the new Vikings stadium.

But after months of minimal returns, the largest maker and distributor of the games in the state announced it will end operations at the end of the month.

A new company will take over most of the operations, and those bars and restaurants that house the games say it represents a new approach to the fledgling industry.

"I don't know that they had caught on as much as the state wanted them to, but I think they're popular in their own venue,” said Gene Glorvigen, owner of Bowlocity in Rochester which offers the games. “What they're trying to do is gain more popularity."

Still, more tradition types of charitable gaming continue to rake in millions: regular pull tabs and bingo.

Many non-profit organizations like the Austin VFW Post #1216 offer both the old style pull tabs and bingo, and they keep a portion of the revenue to support their organization.

"Gaming can pay for our utility bill, plus it helps pay part of the bartender's salaries,” said Robert Norregaard, gambling manager for the Austin VFW. “It also pays for our color guard when they fall out to a funeral."

Pull tabs actually accounted for more than $1 billion in sales in 2013, with bingo the second biggest game, accruing more than $64 million in sales.

When you subtract the prize money paid out, charitable gambling still brings in more than $200 million for the state's non-profits, making Minnesota the number one state in the country for charitable gaming.

And that money is critical for many small non-profits to be able to continue their mission.

"If it wasn't for the gaming, I think we'd have to close,” Norregaard said. “Because the bar wouldn't generate enough revenue to keep the place going."