Vikings stadium financing: Will B-I-N-G-O spell success?

Makers of a new pulltab and linked bingo machine have been making the rounds in St. Paul this week, talking about the potential to start delivering on the promises of electronic charitable gaming that is slated to fund the state's share of the Vikings stadium.

They're pitching a machine developed by Electronic Game Solutions, out of St. Louis, Mo., and sold by International Gamco, an incumbent paper pulltab supplier. They're hoping to get approval for their games next month from the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.

International Gamco vice president Scott Henneman said they've got a half dozen distributors lined up in Minnesota, and the delay getting their pulltabs into Minnesota was developing hand-held device, as required by statute. They've got a console-based, stand alone machine they've sold outside the U.S., and he pegs the daily handle right about where the Minnesota estimates were last year:

"We've had the electronic pulltab product out in other countries, like Norway, the U.K., Argentina. We've now just been approved in the state of Virginia, and we're seeing with the kiosk, which is a cash-in product, ticket out, that we're generating $220 cash in per day and netting around $70, $80 per day. We also have the same product in Idaho, that's into bars, along with our paper product, and it's seeing similar revenues. And the reason for that is that you don't go through a person to play the game. You have $20 in your pocket, you walk right up to the machine, You don't go through a point of sale, you don't through a bar to get that product. So I think that's a big difference why those revenues may be a little bit better than the revenues that are being seen in Minnesota."

Henneman said the machines will work, in part because he thinks there's some pent-up demand among Gamco's existing paper pulltab distributors. His is one of those makers that's been asking customers to wait on electronics. "We've asked them to be patient," Henneman said.

EGS is making the actual devices. The company is an electronic bingo outfit, in 16 jurisdictions in the U.S. and on cruise lines like Disney and Holland America, according to CEO John Smolic. But there's a key difference between Minnesota's games and the rest, he says: they're not linked widely over the internet, like Minnesota's are meant to be. And that's going to make for some big prizes in Minnesota. Pulltab prizes are capped here at $1,499. Linked bingo can have prizes more than 50 times that much, Smolic says:

"Pull tabs is somewhat of a social game, because people come in and they share pulltabs between each other when they purchase them. Same thing is going to happen with linked bingo. We're going to have TV monitors in each bar, it's going to be just for linked bingo, so players are going to be able to sit there watch, and see the the linked bingo jackpots grow, as people play. And they're going to be able to see winners in different parts of the state or even right down the road. So as they sit there and watch, having a beer, whether they're participating or not, they're going to see the jackpots rise. And similar to any other type of game, as the jackpot grows, more and more people have an interest in it and want to play the game, see the game and participate in the winning of jackpots as they grow. And as word gets out where they won, down the road it's $25,000, turns into $50,000, turns into $75,000. It's a lot bigger bang for your investment. It's got a bigger upswing than they do with pulltabs. Plus, they're competing against people right down the street, or in the same bar with them, for that prize."


Oh, and one other thing. The working titles for the games are "Golden Touch" for the pull tabs and  "Booty Chaser," for the bingo. It's a pirate theme.

Smolic and Henneman hope to have their games in as many as 1,250 sites eventually. "We have six distributors that are already established throughout the state, that already have market share. Our goal is to do 50 installations per week," Smolic said.

But that'd also be HALF the market projected by the Gambling Control Board last year -- and so far, the board says no one has even finished filing all the paperwork to get bingo going.

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