ROSEVILLE, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota regulators on Monday approved guidelines for new electronic gambling devices that are a major revenue source to offset debt on a new Vikings football stadium.
The Gambling Control Board voted unanimously for the standards, resisting calls from some corners of the charitable gambling industry to slow the rollout until more is known about how the hand-held devices will work. The action provides the guardrails for makers of the devices, which could show up in bars and restaurants as soon as fall.
“The ship has sailed,” board member William Gillespie said to those urging a more deliberative process. “We’re moving now. We didn’t pick the departure date. It was picked by the Legislature.”
The stadium finance law authorized the introduction of electronic pull-tabs and linked bingo games to be sold alongside paper gambling now operated by charities. Paper pull-tabs are cardboard games often sold for $1 that involve players peeling back tabs to see if they have the right alignment of symbols to win.
Minnesota is becoming the first state to widely offer electronic pull-tabs and linked bingo, where players in multiple locations vie for a common pot of money. The state is betting that annual tax collections from pull-tabs and bingo would more than double, from $37 million to almost $95 million, when the games are fully implemented by mid-2013. Some proceeds would be used to repay state borrowing on the nearly $1 billion stadium.
Tom Barrett, the gambling board’s executive director, said he’s heard from at least a dozen manufacturers that could vie for a share of the Minnesota market. Many, he said, wanted to know the standards before pressing ahead.
The standards cover everything from what types of animation can be used to alert winners to the sophisticated encryption technology that must be in place. Regulators are trying to ease worries that the new machines will resemble mini-slot machines popping up in more than 2,500 sites across the state.
Also Monday, the board approved the license of the first potential game maker, Las Vegas-based Acres 4.0. Company founder John Acres said the company is aiming to have pull-tab games on iPads ready for use in Minnesota soon.
Acres said the company is prepared to outfit up to 10,000 devices to ship to Minnesota within six months and he’s planning to install a computer server to the state next month. The standards require the central gaming system to be housed in Minnesota.
“We have to start. We have to presume there is a desire to go forward,” Acres said. “I’m happy to put the server in in August even if it takes until November or December to be deployed. Our hope is we can have everything done and running in September.”
Some distributors of the paper games wanted the board to go through a more intense rule-making process that could have taken several months longer.
Fabian Hoffman, an attorney for one distributor, was among those speaking against the expedited process.
“I don’t know why the board would cut corners,” Hoffman said to members before their vote.
The board voted to allow agency staff to consider writing the standards as formal rules later on, a process that allows for more public comment and puts the requirements on firmer legal footing. But that process won’t get in the way of the quicker rollout lawmakers envisioned when they passed the Vikings bill in May.
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