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Wadena Lions end pull tab operation

Article provided by the Wadena Lions

Contributions totalling $3,500 will mark the end of an era for the Wadena Lions Club this month. The checks will mark the final donations from the pull tab charitable gambling operation the past several months at the Nite Owl restaurant in Wadena. Gambling committee head Jon Johnson outlined the gifts to be made:

• $400 to the Salvation Army

• $500 to the Wadena Area Food Shelf (brings total to $1,000 for 2009)

• $350 to the Empty Stocking Fund (brings total to $1,000 for 2009)

• $750 to the Cyber Café

• $500 to the Wadena Basketball Backcourt Club

• $500 to the Wadena Hockey Association

• $500 to the Wadena Wrestling Club

The Wadena Lions have operated the pull tab booth at the Nite Owl since the early 1990s, shortly after charitable gambling was made legal by the state of Minnesota. During that time, the Wadena Lions have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities, youth activities, community events and schools.

"In the early years, pull tabs were new and exciting," said Dan Sartell, who initially chaired the gambling committee for the club, "I recall the club making $4,000 to $5,000 per month. Those were the very best years of the operation."

Sartell noted that the state of Minnesota soon realized that gambling proceeds were a prime source of tax revenue.

"Our annual charitable giving of $50,000 to $60,000 was cut in half when the tax was imposed," he said.

Despite the tax hit, pull tabs represented a fairly steady fundraiser for the club.

"Our organization has prided itself in concentrating our giving on local events and activities," Johnson said, "We have kept almost every dollar within the immediate area."

Research into the club's gambling donations revealed substantial support for neighborhood events and activities. Here is a summary of giving gleaned from records dating to the late 1990s (earlier records were not available):

• $50,000: Wadena-Deer Creek scholarships

• $40,000: WDC fine arts and sports

• $20,000: Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts

• $18,000: Summer recreation and youth baseball

• $12,000: Wadena Hockey

• $10,000: Wadena Food Shelf

• $ 6,000: June Jubilee Celebration

• $ 6,000: Wadena Golden Gloves Boxing

• $ 6,000: Wadena Golf Course

• $ 5,000: Knob Hill Sportsman's Club

• $ 5,000: Empty Stocking Fund

• $ 4,000: Alley Arts Project

• $ 3,000: Cyber Café

Other organizations receiving support included:

• Youth Firearms Safety

• Cancer Society

• Senior Citizens Center

• Eye Glasses for Needy Students

• Leader Dog Program

• Wadena County Historical Society

• Wadena Community Center

• Park and Playground Shelters

• Tri-County Hospital Foundation

• St. Ann's School

The decision to discontinue the pull tab operation was not an easy one to make, according to Wadena Lions Club President Tim Stroeing. "The past several years, revenues had dwindled to where it was barely breaking even. We were continually dealing with state regulations that would have required the club to cover any losses. In the end, we decided to drop gambling and concentrate on other fundraising activities such as our Turkey-Beef BBQ in the summer."

Stroeing said the club is already making plans for new fundraisers.

"At our last meeting, members were discussing the possibilities of holding a mountain bike race at Black's Grove, a softball tournament, and an 'indoor' ice fishing derby at the Community Center," he said. "We definitely know there are needs in the area and we want to continue our proud tradition of service to the community."

The Wadena Lions Club meets the second and fourth Mondays of the month from September through May at the Nite Owl Restaurant. Picnic meetings are held during the summer months. New members are always welcome.