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Their $15 million in gross sales last year is just below earnings from paddle-wheel gambling.
“The impact on charitable gambling, whether for taxes or mission work, has been negligible to this point,” Lund said. “But we hope and believe at some point, it will have a significant impact on our ability to raise funds.”
That said, e-gambling has enjoyed some success with several charities and locations. Amanda Jackson is gambling manager for the Spring Lake Park Lions Club, which rolled out the iPad devices on Day One at Monte’s Sports Bar. Since launching the games there and at another site, the charity’s net revenue from its paper and e-games jumped $93,000 over the year, she said. The increase in paper pulltab sales contributed to that total as well, she said.
The St. Cloud Youth Hockey Association, which launched e-pulltabs on Day One at Howie’s, also is pleased, said Laurie Hayward, gambling manager. The key to getting people to play, she said, is to keep the gambling devices visible and have staff ready and willing to teach customers the games.
“If they’re not out there, people aren’t going to ask for them,” Hayward said.
Meanwhile, a small group of bars are consistently raking in cash. Tiny Porky’s Bar in St. Paul reported nearly $95,000 in gross sales in August and $18,000 in after-prize revenue. Mully’s on Madison in Mankato had $74,000 in gross sales and $13,000 after prizes.
Tom Barrett, executive director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, which came up with the initial projections, said this year’s experience shows that when the bars and charities work together to promote the games, they can generate money.
It also shows the importance of advertising and marketing, something the e-games have lacked. The Minnesota State Lottery has $6 million a year to pay for billboards and ads, he said. Charities and bars can’t afford that. Meanwhile, e-bingo, which rolled out earlier this year, was expected to help turn the tide. But e-bingo ran into some technical bugs initially and is still figuring out how to attract enough players at one time to make the payouts attractive.
A magnet for the young?
Another prediction was the games would attract a younger generation of players. But gambling managers say that’s not exactly right. The e-games attracted young and older players but generally folks who didn’t play paper pulltabs.
The serious paper players know how to “read” a pulltab game and maximize their chances of winning, they said. They can’t do that with the video games. But Hayward believes the e-games are drawing a younger crowd to her bars, at least in the afternoons when she works.
Political analyst David Schultz said e-gambling has served its purpose. It got a Vikings stadium bill through the Legislature. He remains incredulous that nobody in government knew that the sales projections were so off or that they had come from the gambling industry.
A year after the failed experiment, e-gambling is now reverting to what it was — an interesting idea to explore at local bars and restaurants. Charities are rethinking ways to attract new players and possibly new marketing. But they are now saddled with a legacy of bad publicity and ties to the Vikings stadium.
“Absolutely no one would say, ‘If we could do this over again, we’d do it this way,’ ” Lund said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511