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E-pull tabs could arrive in September

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Thousands of Minnesota bars and restaurants will soon be eligible to offer electronic pull tabs and bingo to their patrons.

While much of the discussion about gambling and financing a Vikings stadium focuses on electronic pull tabs, Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, expects electronic bingo to also be a boon to the hospitality industry.

"It's linked throughout all of our members throughout the state of Minnesota," said Ball. "You could be playing against 6,000 people and the prizes could be $30,000, $40,000. ... Minnesota, if we get this linked bingo that we're so excited about, will be the largest bingo hall on the planet."

Electronic pull tabs could make their debut as soon as September, said gambling control board executive director Tom Barrett. He told the board Monday that his staff already has an application from a distributor of the machines, and he expects more to come.

The board heard from a number of gambling operators who expressed reservations about how the law changes existing gambling to help fund a Vikings stadium.

But Jon Latcham, the state's largest distributor of paper pull tabs, thinks e-pull tabs will be widely adopted and successful.

"I have seen the anxiety, but I've also seen people willing to accept change," he said. "I think the level of curiosity and interest in what's going on right now is a sure thing."

  Latcham said tax changes will likely improve the prize percentage for traditional pull tabs, and he expects they'll grow as well.

The law also authorizes sports-themed tip boards, which are widely used but banned by federal law. State officials may decide soon whether to take on the law in court, or simply legalize the tip boards and challenge the law directly.