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Vikings stadium electronic pulltabs debut just weeks away

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Tom Barrett
Gambling Control Board executive director Tom Barrett demonstrates the choice of games available on one electronic pull-tab device under consideration by his agency.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Taxes on new electronic pull tabs are supposed to help pay for about one-third of the new Vikings stadium. And the games could be in gambler's hands in Minnesota in less than two weeks. That's the word from the Minnesota Gambling Control Board and from the first manufacturer given the go ahead to bring the pull tabs to this state.

Treasures of the Jungle is one of a handful of the new games getting a final check by state regulators. The state's chief gambling regulator says he thinks the games have a good chance of winning approval at the next meeting of the state's gambling control board Sept. 18. The games could start taking bets within hours of approval.

• See video of a game demonstration below

"If all the ducks are in a row, and the testing lab proves that the equipment meets the standards, we give it the final test here. We're actually playing games here, just to see how they play out, in terms of the image and the prize payout," said Tom Barrett, executive director of the Gambling Control Board.

"But assuming everything goes in line, and its ready for board approval, and the board approves it, similar to what we see in paper games, once the board approves those new games, be it paper or electronic, they'll be made available for sale," he said.

The gambling entrepreneur who came up with the idea, John Acres, says machines will be standing by for approval. His Las Vegas-based company, Acres 4.0, is already putting the gambling software on off-the-shelf Apple iPads. The idea is that the modified tablets will be available in bars and restaurants and serve up pulltabs and bingo over a secure internet connection

"We have plans in place to go live on the 18th, and we hope to open three locations on the 18th [of September].

Acres won't say where those might be. By law, he says he has to keep an arms-length distance from the charities that will use his equipment.

Express Games Minnesota, the distributor handling actual sales, also declined to say where the electronic pull tabs might debut. But the company said charities have expressed great interest in the games.

They'll need to. As will gamblers.

• See video of a game demonstration below

The state is counting on them to help pay its $348 million share of the mortgage for the Vikings billion-dollar new home. Sales taxes from electronic pulltabs and bingo were earmarked to pay debt service in a deal approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year. Pull tab sales need to more than double, to more than $2 billion a year, to meet state revenue projections. But the charities that run lawful gaming have been lukewarm toward the idea, although they originally proposed the new games -- without any connection to the stadium.

Ray Bohn, spokesman for Allied Charities of Minnesota, the trade group for gambling operators says charities are waiting to see what kind of a cut suppliers want to get from the games, whether there will be enough suppliers to offer a competitive pricing, and whether the popularity of the electronic games will be worth the extra taxes they might accrue.

"That's a big barrier for a lot of folks. And I think what they're waiting for at this point is they're waiting for those cost factors in terms of what these machines, what it's going to cost to operate them, and whether they can make that work within the context of the taxes they pay and their other expenses," he said.

Eight other makers have also indicated they may submit games for approval. All told, more than 2,500 bars and restaurants across the state could be eligible to adopt the games.