Local bars still “up in the air” on electronic pull tabs

Staff Writer
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The Minnesota Vikings have a new place to play.

And now, residents statewide will have new games to play to help pay for it.

Along with the recently passed $975 million bill to keep the Vikings in the state comes legislation that legalized electronic pull tab gambling.

Proceeds from the games will go to charitable groups, with the taxed portion being used to pay down the state’s portion of bonds going toward financing the stadium.

However, don’t count on having unlimited access to the newest wave in gaming when stepping into local bars and restaurants just yet.

It is expected to take until at least September or October, if not later, for businesses to acquire the new machines and have them licensed by the state gambling board.

Even then, most places are hesitant to give a guarantee that they will offer electronic gambling.

“We’re still waiting for how they’re going to work,” said Doug Zylka, manager at Zylka’s Red Bull Bar in Little Falls. “The state hasn’t briefed us at all. They haven’t talked to our gambling managers.”

“We’re up in the air,” he said. “Until they kick something to us we have no clue.”

One of the biggest concerns: where will the money go?

Currently, the proceeds from paper pull tabs are directed primarily toward local charitable groups.

But if the state-run electronic tabs divert money away from area groups like the Lions Club, schools and boys and girls scouts, “We’re kind of cutting our own throats as business owners in a small community,” said Bryan Allen, co-owner of Red’s Irish Pub in Swanville.

Even if electronic pull tabs are implemented, they will have to supplement, not replace, the paper tabs.

“I think it would have to be both,” he said. “Some people like to have the paper ones versus a digital, just like some people like holding a magazine instead of a Kindle.”

“We love (paper tabs) because it brings money to local charities and helps support a lot of our parks and recreation,” he said.

Some businesses are skeptical the design itself of electronic pull tabs is worthwhile.

The Main Gate Bar and Grill in Little Falls will be more than happy to stick with paper pull tabs, according to co-owner Jason McDuffee, citing the more random selection offered.

Additionally, rather than bringing a portable device to a table and sitting down alone, paper pull tabs provide more of an interaction between customers and staff.

A paper pull tab is a gambling ticket in which a customer attempts to open perforated slots on the back of a ticket with a combination of winning symbols from the front of the ticket.

The electronic version will be a small handheld device linked wirelessly to the state gambling board.

It will be similar to the paper version, although instead of manually pulling out tabs, customers will simply touch the screen.

Under the new law, electronic pull tabs should offer the same odds of winning while also lowering the tax rate for revenue going to charities.

But will businesses benefit enough to outweigh the cost of the machines?

“It’s a total guessing game right now until we can get something going with them,” Zylka said.