The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 13, 2013

Interest low locally for e-gaming

Revenue for Vikings stadium falling far short of expectations

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — When electronic gambling rolled out statewide last fall to help pay for the new Vikings stadium, two Mankato bars hopped aboard.

More than six months later, they’re still the only two locally that offer the games.

“There may be a couple more places coming, but beyond that, the interest is real low,” said Kim Herman of Triple Crown Gaming (formerly Bass Gambling supplies) of Mankato.

E-gaming, which was ballyhooed as a boon to the state’s $348 million stadium-funding obligation, has so far been a bust.

The state initially projected revenues of $35 million by the end of 2013, but that estimate has been slashed to $1.7 million, and the number of bars offering the iPad-delivered pulltab games is less than one-tenth the number forecasted.

Herman said the state’s e-game gambit has been beset by relatively small prize payouts and public resentment over its revenues going for stadium construction.

“That’s what we’re hearing in the field,” he said.

He also said e-game proponents misguidedly thought the games would be embraced by a new gambling demographic — young, tech-friendly players.

The Eagles Club and Mully’s On Madison are the sole local e-gaming establishments.

Mully’s owner Patrick Mulligan said the four gambling terminals in his bar are “going pretty good,” though he declined to get into specifics regarding the amount of play compared with the bar’s traditional paper pulltabs.

He thinks more bars haven’t embraced the e-games because of simple human nature — “a natural reluctance to change” — but suggests that change is in the offing.

“Who knows? Twenty years down the road we might think we were cavemen for filling landfills with paper pulltabs.”

Eagles Gambling Manager Mike Blanck said there has been a “varied” response to e-games at that bar; some people say they like them, but paper tabs still rule.

“We got into this in anticipation of bigger things. I shouldn’t say that they (the state) put the cart before the horse but ... it’s in its infancy. I think eventually it’ll meet its goal, but I think it’s going to take some time.”

Blanck said he has high hopes for the impending introduction of bingo to the e-game lineup because of the statewide online player link-ups that would produce larger prize winnings.

Meantime, a legislative panel, state gambling control board members and other stakeholders have been meeting to discuss two backup stadium funding options the legislature approved in 2012.

Those options are a sports-themed state lottery game and a tax on stadium suites.

Other ideas have ranged from user fees on tickets to taxing pro sports memorabilia purchases.  

A Republican bill introduced last week offers a sobering plan — cutting the state’s $348 million share of the project by $200 million.