Electronic pulltabs may soon be in Minnesota's game

Electronic pulltabs, the white knight of Vikings stadium funding, could be installed in bars and restaurants as soon as Sept. 18.

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Electronic pull tab games will soon be available to the Minnesota public.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Minnesota's first electronic pulltab games, intended to pay for a third of the Vikings stadium, are undergoing their final testing in Roseville and at a high-security gambling laboratory in Las Vegas.

If all goes as planned, the games will be approved Sept. 18 and will be available immediately to bars and restaurants that run charitable gambling.

"This is a pivotal week," said Tom Barrett, executive director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, which will vote Sept. 18 on the new games.

"We're in the final stages of testing. When we have that final report in hand [from Gaming Laboratories International in Las Vegas], and when we're satisfied internally with our own review ... then we're ready to go, if all those things line up."

The five video pulltab games being tested -- with names such as Big Money Heist and Mystic 7 -- are just the beginning. Another nine manufacturers have expressed interest in making hand-held pulltab games for Minnesota, said Barrett. Four already have submitted applications to the Gambling Control Board.

The Legislature approved a dramatic expansion of pulltab gambling last session to pay the state's portion of the Vikings stadium, about $350 million of the $975 million pricetag. Previously, only paper pulltabs had been legal in Minnesota, used by roughly 1,200 charities and nonprofits to support everything from Little League teams to VFWs.

Minnesota, a national leader in paper pulltab use, is poised to be the national leader in electronic pulltabs, offering more games and more locations than any place in the country, said John Acres, president of the Las Vegas-based company, Acres 4.0, that manufactured the initial games.

"When and if the board approves the games, we'll go live in three locations," said Acres, who said he did not have information on the precise locations.

That number could explode in the week ahead, depending on the number of nonprofits that install the new iPad-like games. The habits and preferences of Minnesota's initial players will be monitored by the game manufacturer.

"We have long experience in the casino business, we know what consumers want," said Acres. "But we don't know if that's the same as in neighborhood bars and restaurants running charitable gambling. The first few months will be a period of adaptation."

State is testing, too

While game makers are watching consumers, the state is watching the security features on the video games, scouting out potential opportunities for fraud, errors or just lack of clarity to consumers.

In Las Vegas, testers will vet features such as whether the games pay out the correct amount of money, whether the software is hacker-proof and whether the games produce random winners, said Gary Danger, compliance officer at the Gambling Control Board.

"Just like pulltabs are put in bins and shuffled, these have to be randomized as well," he said.

Meanwhile, at state gambling control offices in Roseville, regulators such as Danger are checking to make sure the games contain features required by Minnesota law, and that they make sense to players.

Danger and his staff get the job of playing video games every day -- while being paid.

"We're looking at things such as, 'Are they adding and subtracting correctly?'" said Danger. "'If there is a winner, how is he identified?' 'Is all the information that is now displayed on a paper pulltab on the electronic pulltabs?'"

Real-time info for regulators

Danger also is monitoring the electronic reports generated by the games, which for the first time give gambling regulators access to real-time information on sales, prizes paid and taxes paid.

Gambling officials already have hired three employees to handle the new games, said Barrett. Another three are on the way.

Meanwhile, the state is in the process of conducting criminal and financial background checks on the other nine game manufacturers who want to enter the Minnesota market.

The growing interest by games manufacturers was good news to the approximately 1,200 local nonprofits that run gambling booths in the state. Charities have been wary of launching the games quickly, he said, because they worry about potential costs and taxes.

"This makes things more competitive," said Ray Bohn, spokesman for Allied Charities of Minnesota. "But there are still a lot of unknowns."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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