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Big bingo win represents turnaround for charitable gambling

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Electronic charitable gambling is posting a turnaround this summer, years after state officials wrote it off as a source of stadium funds.

Lawmakers picked e-pulltabs and electronic-linked bingo to help pay for a new Vikings stadium. But the games initially fell flat, and forced Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature to come up with a new financing plan.

But a bingo player in Eveleth won $71,000 Saturday night, a sign that play is picking up and driving up jackpots to unprecedented levels. 

"It's the largest jackpot that's ever been issued in Minnesota charitable bingo history, so we're pretty excited about it," said Jon Weaver of Pilot Games, the bingo game operator.

Electronic linked bingo was an afterthought when e-pulltabs were launched in 2012. But Weaver says it is a winner.

"It's a very important step to have a game that has this level of market acceptance that you can generate a $70,000 plus jackpot," he said. "it means that people are playing the game, and e-gaming may have developed some sea legs."

State officials tapped new corporate taxes to pay off stadium bonds in 2013. But new charitable gambling taxes could yet prove a key financing mechanism to pay off the stadium's 30-year mortgage.