E-pulltab haul for new Vikings stadium is zero in first year

Anniversary of first electronic game shows paper pulltabs growing faster.

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Dave Stokes of St. Paul played an electronic pulltab game at Skinner’s Pub in St. Paul. Electronic pulltabs, which were supposed to fund the state’s share of the new Vikings stadium, haven’t been selling as well as expected.

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ • Star Tribune file,

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Electronic gambling, which hit Minnesota bars with great fanfare last September, did not raise a dime for the glassy new Vikings football stadium this year.

Minnesotans plunked down $15 million over the past year to play the electronic games, but 85 percent bounced back to players as prizes, new state figures show. That left about $2 million to be divided among charity expenses, donations and taxes — nowhere near the original projection of $35 million in taxes for the first year.

Ironically, the new stadium could end up getting some gambling money, but that’s because of a spike in sales of the humble paper pulltabs. They racked up nearly $1 billion in sales during the fiscal year ending in June, a five-year high.

The newest figures from the Minnesota Gambling Control Board have stadium backers breathing a sigh of relief that the state approved an alternate funding plan in May that no longer expects charitable gambling to contribute the $348 million state share of the stadium cost.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who made a Vikings stadium a top priority, said the year’s track record confirms that the e-pulltab funding formula was a gamble.

“To take an untried source of revenue for the sole source of funding for a major project is ill-advised,” he said Friday. “That’s my number one take-away from this.”

But, Dayton said, “We made an honest mistake and corrected it.”

National experiment

Last September, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to roll out electronic pulltab devices. The governor and legislative stadium backers sold e-pulltabs as a way to fund the Vikings stadium without raising taxes. They predicted electronic games would create a boom in charities’ fundraising, in new young gamblers and in sales at host bars.

There were problems from the start. Wildly inflated sales projections were provided largely by the gambling industry. Charities were pressured to sell and sell fast. There was just one vendor. And the public wasn’t that interested in funding the so-called “millionaire’s stadium.”

Projected tax revenue from the e-games was slashed from the initial $35 million to $17 million to $1.7 million — all within nine months. By May, Dayton and legislators came up with alternate plan: a one-time cigarette tax and the closing of a corporate tax “loophole.”

A year of e-gambling shows the switch was critical.

Today, only 300 of the 2,800 bars and restaurants that sell paper games offer the electronic games, according to the Gambling Control Board. Total gross sales have hovered at roughly $1.8 million for the past four months: After prize payouts, about $280,000 was left.

The average net sales, per day per site, was $30 in August.

Revisiting the first five bars to sign on last September shows how sales vary dramatically by location. O’Gara’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul, the epicenter of the e-gambling rollout last year, reported after-prize revenue of $15.70 at its airport location in August and minus-$364 at its St. Paul bar and restaurant.

Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul reported net sales of $943 in August. Carbone’s CR Billiards posted net sales of $2,029. Howie’s Sports Bar in St. Cloud had $3,667: Monte’s Sports Bar in Spring Lake Park had $5,154.

Reports from the roughly 200 charities selling the e-games show that one-third earned between $0 and $500 in after-prize earnings during August. About 30 charities were in the red, and a similar number reported earnings of $500 to $1,000 and $1,000 to $2,000. Another 35 charities reported net earnings of $2,000 plus.

The games have not produced the predicted new revenue stream for charities, said Al Lund, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota.

  • More online

    To see what Minnesota charities raised from electronic gambling in August, go to www.startribune.com.

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