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Local establishments have yet to use electronic pull-tabs

Britne Forcier, pull-tab sales clerk at VFW post 3922 in Wadena, sells paper pull-tabs to a customer Wednesday night. Local organizations that have charitable gambling are reluctant to put in the new electronic version of pull-tabs. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

Concerned about cost, safety and return on investment, local bars and restaurants have hesitated to adopt electronic pull-tabs, which have appeared both in the Twin Cities bar scene and places closer to home, like Alexandria.

Gary Danger of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board said the new electronic pull-tabs can come in several forms. Danger said one vendor sells games that are installed on iPads, iPad Minis and iPods. Another vendor has a gaming device that Danger described as slightly bigger than an iPad, but "sturdier." Electronic pull-tabs tend to cost the same to the player as paper ones, he added.

It's the perceived cost to the bar the devices are used in, though, that has locals skeptical. Tim Montan, manager of the Elks Club in Wadena, explained why his lodge's gambling committee was thinking twice before putting in electronic pull-tabs.

"First of all, it's too new," Montan said. "Most everybody has been waiting to find out what exactly it's going to cost to have those machines in."

Montan said the state government and the Minnesota Gambling Control Board jumped at the idea of electronic pull-tabs, but many of the Elks' suppliers didn't have the new machines yet. He added that many of the people he's talked to who have tried electronic pull-tabs say they prefer the conventional paper version because it's more fun to pull a physical piece of paper than use an electronic device.

"In outstate Minnesota, they're just kind of waiting to see how things go in the Cities before anybody really jumps in on it," Montan said.

Montan also said the Elks Lodge already has a non-gambling videogame touchscreen by the bar, but it isn't a hot item among the bar's patrons.

"People only play it when they're bored," he said.

Ed Waln, gambling manager at VFW Post 3922 in Wadena, said the bar there also doesn't have any electronic gambling, and won't have it in the future until questions about the practicality of the new idea are addressed.

"Until it gets ironed out - which it will, I'm sure - we're just doing things as normal," Waln said.

Waln added that when he was being briefed on electronic gambling as part of continuing education classes put on by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, there were questions that came up that he said his instructor couldn't answer.

"If you're in there and you have this little electronic device about twice the size of a cell phone ... what if you walk out the door with it or break it or drop it? What if you stick it in your pocket and walk out? How does that come into play?" Waln said. "They couldn't answer some of these kind of questions."

Tim Theisen of Firehouse Bar and Grille said his bar has only paper pull-tabs as well, and doesn't see electronic gambling coming to the Firehouse in the near future.

"I think it's a bigger expense for the smaller communities like this," he said.

Danger acknowledged that electronic gambling wasn't catching on as fast as initially hoped, but he also said Minnesota was only the second state in the nation to try electronic pull-tabs. The first was Virginia, and Danger said it took them three years to put in the first machine after their Legislature allowed the practice. It only took Minnesota from May to September of last year, Danger said.

Danger was confident electronic gambling would turn around in Minnesota, and said other states could base their plans for electronic pull-tabs on what happens here.

"There's a lot of states, a lot different eyes watching, to see how this goes; how the method goes," he said. "There's, I'm sure, a lot of different things that are being taken from this by other states as they look to see if this is something they want to venture into as well."