Pulltab iPads get approval

Las Vegas-based company won the state's first license issued by state Gambling Control Board.

Minnesota's leap into high-tech charitable gambling got a major boost Monday when state regulators approved the first manufacturer of pulltab devices financing the Minnesota Vikings stadium, as well as new standards for the games.

A Las Vegas-based company with deep roots in casino gambling won the state's first license issued by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. Its iPad devices are expected to join paper pulltabs at state bars and restaurants this fall. The company, Acres 4.0, currently uses the iPads at casinos in several states.

"Minnesota would be the first time they are used for charitable gambling, and the first time for casual play," said John Acres, the company's founder. "We think what Minnesota is doing will set the tone for the rest of the country."

Minnesota will tap part of the proceeds from the new electronic pulltabs to pay its $350 million share of the $975 million Vikings stadium. About 1,200 charities currently offer pulltabs and bingo, ranging from hockey teams to churches to Lions clubs.

Charities offering the new pulltabs encouraged the board not to rush the decisions that will affect their livelihood and the future of the Vikings stadium.

Typically before making key decisions, the gambling board creates a committee of affected parties to discuss the proposed new rules and language, said King Wilson, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota. This time around, the board drafted its standards for the new games and posted them online last month for public response.

Tom Barrett, executive director of the board, said he received considerable public comment, which was incorporated into the standards. But it was important to approve the technical standards for the games quickly so they could be manufactured as soon as possible.

"The ship has sailed," board member Bill Gillespie told the audience at the meeting. "We're moving now. We didn't pick the departure date. The Legislature did."

How it will work

The electronic pulltab game that could soon be in Minnesota bars and restaurants is played on an Apple iPad or on a smaller iPhone-sized device, with colorful graphics and sound. Players use their fingers to swipe the tabs on the screen and see if their apples and oranges line up for a win.

Charities would lease the games from the distributor, which along with Acres' company would get part of the proceeds. Acres said he's prepared to deploy up to 10,000 of the games in the first six months of operation.

Similar devices, equipped with games other than pulltabs, are being used in casinos in California, Oklahoma and Oregon, he said.

In the weeks ahead, his company will blaze the trail for other gambling manufacturers. It will set up a centralized computer server for the games, possibly in Minneapolis, he said, to track and monitor their use. Minnesota law requires that a centralized computer server for the games be located in the state.

All gambling devices will be tested in labs to ensure they meet state standards for security from hackers, "randomness" and other features to comply with Minnesota law, said Barrett.

Although Acres is the first company to get a license approved to make and market the products in Minnesota, other manufacturers already licensed in the state could submit product designs in the near future, Barrett said.

What's the rush?

Monday's developments were a major step in getting the new forms of charitable gambling off the ground, said Wilson.

"The main thing charities want to know is how much it will cost them," said Wilson. "Until now we haven't had a manufacturer approved. Now we'll start seeing what the costs are."

However, an attorney representing a game distributor said the board should think twice before making future rules and standards that don't follow its customary practices.

"I don't understand the haste," said attorney Fabian Hoffner, a former assistant attorney general in Minnesota who specialized in gambling. "What they [the board] are doing is not necessarily wrong. I think the board could get itself in trouble."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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