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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 18 2013

E-pulltab, bingo games will pay off, supporters say

ST. PAUL – Genny Hinnenkamp travels the Duluth area picking up proceeds from pulltab games, with profits destined for the charity she represents and the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

She dreams about getting more money as electronic pulltab games spread and statewide electronic bingo is added. But she is realistic about how fast the money will come.

“Everybody’s got to be patient,” Hinnenkamp said, counseling customers and legislators alike.

Some state lawmakers are worried that electronic pulltab games are not bringing in as much money as anticipated to pay taxes supporting the state’s portion of a nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium.

Taxes from pulltabs and a related bingo game that has yet to begin are supposed to eventually bring in $348 million for the stadium. Since

e-pulltabs began in September, however, they brought in less than expected because they are played in fewer locations than predicted.

Only about 120 sites across the state are hosting the electronic games, with earlier projections calling for 2,500 by July 1. That is a number many lawmakers say cannot be reached in such a short time.

“I’m more concerned than I was before the hearing,” Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said after a House committee heard the numbers this week.

Even with the lower figures, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he does not see a need to make any changes in stadium financing this year. Gov. Mark Dayton is not expected to propose any changes in pulltabs, either, when he releases his budget plan Tuesday.

Most charities that sponsor games expect e-pulltab revenues to jump, but the real money may come from linked bingo games that can be played across the state and give winners big payouts. A state board has yet to authorize bingo.

“I think that bingo is going to be a bigger one; you are going to see a lot bigger prizes,” said Rich Jarenson of the Bemidji Snowmobile Club, which sponsors pulltab games in 11 Bemidji-area bars and convenience stores.

Jarenson predicted bingo payouts of up to $30,000. If one bingo game produces no winner, the money rolls over into the next game, much like the Powerball offered by state lotteries.

“I think it is going to be a little more exciting,” Jarenson said.

His sites have not added

e-pulltabs, but he expects to begin wading into the future in a month or two.

“In all honesty, until it gets going, we have some sites that are not going to look at it,” he said.

Where the future has arrived, players appear to like what they see.

The electronic games are going over without a hitch at Dilworth’s Mills Lounge, said Brent Kangas, gaming manager for the Dilworth Lions Club, which receives a percentage of the profits from the games. The games arrived at the bar Jan. 2.

Kangas would not say how much money the games have brought in, but he said in the two weeks they’ve been in use, they’ve beaten the paper pulltabs games. In other locations, pulltab revenues have gone up along with e-pulltabs.

“We have people playing every day,” Kangas said. “It’s going good. I think we’re doing our part towards the stadium.”

Mills Lounge owner Rick Cariveau said he has only had a few minor problems, but over-the-phone technical service has been speedy and easy to follow.

“No problems whatsoever, other than me hitting the wrong button once in a while,” Cariveau said, laughing. “First time I’ve gotten to use an iPad.”

He said Mills Lounge has 17 electronic games that are unique to the location.

“These games are not played statewide,” Cariveau said. “They’re very user friendly, and they’re fun to play.”

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Reporters Erik Burgess of The Forum and Carolyn Lange of Forum News Service contributed to this story.