An unlikely revenue source for a Viking stadium took center stage Tuesday: electronic pulltabs.
Gov. Mark Dayton said the proposal to let bars offer electronic versions of pulltabs was the most politically viable method of garnering money for a new stadium. The proposal has been floating around the Capitol for some time, fueled by heavy support from the state's charities and liquor interests.
About 1,300 nonprofit organizations, from VFWs to hockey teams, are licensed to conduct charitable gambling at bars across Minnesota. Charitable gambling, which includes pull tabs, bingo and raffles, nets the state about $36 million a year in taxes; legalizing electronic pulltabs is expected to bring in an additional $40 million.
Electronic bingo is already legal, but restricted by state law. Pending legislation would lift some of the state restrictions on electronic bingo while allowing for electronic pulltabs.
Unlike the giant slot machines that line tribal casinos, electronic pulltabs would center around wireless iPad-like devices that can be used throughout the bar. Patrons would pay someone at the bar to load money on the machine.
Bingo and pulltabs would likely be played on different devices, but the move to electronic displays is expected to bring more people, especially younger patrons, flocking to charitable gambling in bars.
"We're not expanding anything, we're just taking what we've already got and updating it to fit current technology," said King Wilson, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota.
Others are less sanguine about the change.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, one of several lawmakers who decried the social costs of expanded gambling at a news conference last week, said electronic pulltabs have the same pitfalls as other forms of gambling. The Minneapolis DFLer noted it preys on people with compulsive gambling problems.
"I think that it's a very regressive way to raise revenue," Hornstein said.
The fight ahead is likely to revolve around whether the bill changes tax rates. Charities had hoped that by allowing for electronic pulltabs, the state could subsequently lower their gambling taxes. That made the legislation effectively revenue neutral for the state.
If state lawmakers want extra money for a Vikings stadium, charitable gambling tax rates may not change -- netting the state an extra $40 million.
"Unfortunately, the bigger number the state needs means we can do less reduction and less reform," said Wilson.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, first pitched the idea of linking it to a Vikings stadium two weeks ago in Dayton's office.
Bakk said he won't support a broader gambling expansion, but he supports the pull tab idea to help pay for a stadium and provide some relief for charities.
"We already have bingo, so big deal," Bakk said. "The charities need some help and this is a gambling proposal I support."
Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper