MANKATO — Rich Boelke, governor of the Albert Lea Moose lodge, sums up one of the challenges facing the new electronic gambling games being introduced in the state.
"The pulltab pullers we have, they're old fashioned players. They like pulling the paper pulltabs back. We have to train them."
Boelke and about 50 other representatives from charities around the area gathered at the Mankato Eagles club Wednesday evening to learn more about e-gaming.
Allen Lund, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, said many customers and charities think the e-gaming revenues are taking money away from charitable work or from state coffers. That's because some of the state taxes on gaming will go to a new Vikings stadium. But Lund said the first $36.9 million in state revenue from all gaming — paper and electronics — first goes to the state general fund, with any excess going to the stadium.
"We did not give up mission dollars for this."
He told the group that the new electronic pulltabs and bingo games are simply an opportunity to boost total sales to benefit the charities.
That potential is of interest to Boelke, who said that recent casino openings in Iowa has slashed his and other southern Minnesota clubs' revenue.
"It's cut our profits by 50 percent. It's too bad because the money is going to Iowa casinos instead of to our kids." His lodge donates much of its charitable money to local school sports teams.
Lund said that as interest builds in e-gaming he's confident it will restore and increase sales. "We need to get people excited about it. We need to work with the charities on marketing it to their customers."
Jon Weaver of Express Games, the first of three vendors to introduce electronic gambling devices in the state, said bars and clubs using the games have seen a spike in revenue.
He pointed to Mully's on Madison in Mankato, which offered the games early on. In the past three months Mully's had $194,000 in gambling sales, higher than its previous sales and considerably higher than the average for most bars and clubs.
The added revenues allows the charity sponsored by the bar — Prairie Ecology Bus Center — to get about $2,000 more each month.
"That doesn't sound like a whole lot, but it means a lot to them," Weaver said. "They told us they've been able to give raises to their naturalists, raises they haven't been able to give for a long time."
Sales at Mully's in May were the fourth highest of any charitable gambling site in the state.
Weaver said that not only do the e-gaming devices draw more revenue, but they boost traditional sales.
"Paper sales also increase dramatically at our electronic sites."
Proponents of e-gaming think that new bingo games being rolled out will draw considerably more interest in electronic gaming as they connect players all over the state and offer progressively higher payouts.
"We hope the bingo will really take off," Lund said.