The first electronic bingo games linking players across the state were approved by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board on Monday, injecting a new source of funding for the Vikings stadium.
The games will join electronic pulltabs for play at bars and restaurants. Bingo could have jackpots of up to $75,000 and are expected to attract a new type of e-gambling customer, charities and vendors say.
Taxes on the electronic games and other forms of charitable gambling are supposed to pay the state’s $348 million share of the Vikings stadium. To date, revenue has fallen dramatically behind expectations.
While bingo won’t rescue the stadium, state charity leaders say they’re pleased to finally have some new games and competition in the e-gaming mix.
“It’s a good day,” said Al Lund, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota. “We’re tickled pink that we now have a linked bingo provider with a game and three [electronic] pulltab providers.”
“Charities look forward to having a full package of electronics,” he said.
The games allow players at one location to play with fellow bingo fans at all the bars and restaurants using the same bingo devices, made by the same manufacturer, in Minnesota.
The dollar value of the prize is tied to the number of players. If 100 machines are being played at $1 each, for example, a $40 prize would be split by the winner or winners. If 1,000 machines were in play, the regular prize would hit $400.
In each case, 10 percent of the sales would be directed to each of the three progressive jackpots. Those jackpots would max at $2,500, $12,500 and $75,000.
Bingo accounts for less than 10 percent of charitable gambling in Minnesota. Last spring, state officials projected that 1,500 sites would install linked bingo games by the end of this year, and 2,500 establishments would be offering electronic pulltabs.
But so far, only about 190 bars and restaurants have electronic pulltabs. As recently as November, gambling officials were still predicting the new pulltabs would raise $17.1 million for the stadium project in 2013. By March, that number had been reduced to just $1.9 million.
But many charities that held off on the electronic pulltabs said they were watching the bingo plans progress.
E-Tab Manufacturing, the St. Paul-based company producing the bingo games, is optimistic the linked games will strike a chord with Minnesotans. “We think the bingo will be much more social than pulltabs,” said Jim Welbourn, E-Tab operations director. “You’ll hear people yelling at the bar. People can pool their money and share the pot. And the jackpots will be sizable.”
Linked bingo will get a test at several locations later this week, Welbourn said. That includes Jimmy’s Food and Drink in Vadnais Heights, Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus and Blainbrook Bowling Center in Blaine. It will then be rolled out across the state in the weeks ahead.
John Derus, a board member at Running Aces, said he believed bingo would be “a good add-on” to the gambling options at the racetrack and will be good for charity.
“But will it pay for a stadium? Never” said Derus, an outspoken advocate for slot machines at local racetracks to do the job.
The Gambling Control Board also approved a third electronic pulltab device Monday, this one manufactured by Nebraska-based International Gamco. Gamco’s gambling device also will play electronic bingo and pulltabs. The bingo game is awaiting board approval.