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Lawmakers Made A Bad Bet On E-Pulltabs For Vikings Stadium

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – The numbers are in from e-pulltabs, and we know now how much money the gambling game generated for the new Vikings stadium.

The number of dollars? Zero.

Pulltabs were supposed to pay for the state’s portion of the new stadium. But one year after e-pulltabs became law, only 300 bars have signed up for it.

Charles Senkler, the owner of Fabulous Fern’s in St. Paul, clears about $300 a month from e-pulltabs — far less than expected.

“I expected in the neighborhood of $2,500 a month,” he said.

Senkler blames the slow start on the tablet. With paper pulltabs, players can see how many winners are left. On the iPad, they can’t.

“It’s been OK, but it has a very small number of players,” Senkler said.

The slow start is reflected all around the state.

Minnesota’s Gambling Control Board says e-pulltabs generated about $15 million in the first year, but $13 million went to prizes.

Most of the remaining $2 million then went to charity donations and expenses — leaving nothing for the stadium.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s not surprised. But he says that doesn’t matter now.

“Mistakes are made,” he said “and the challenge is you recognize the mistake, own up to it and then correct it.”

But the fact remains that the state doesn’t need e-pulltabs anymore to pay for the stadium. Minnesota lawmakers passed a backup stadium plan, using one-day revenues from a big cigarette tax hike this year. They also are taxing foreign profits of Minnesota businesses.

At Fabulous Fern’s, Senkler still has hope the pulltab revenues will improve, but doesn’t believe it will happen soon.

“All a customer really has to do is win once,” he said, “and you got ‘em.”

Bottom line is: Lawmakers made a very bad bet, believing the wildly inaccurate pulltab estimate before approving it to fund the Vikings stadium.

It’s very likely e-pulltabs are here to stay, but it won’t have much, if anything, to do with stadium funding.

Note: While e-pulltabs are suffering from a slow start, paper pulltabs are doing well. In fact, the Gambling Control Board reports that paper pulltabs generated nearly $1 billion last year — that’s up 8 percent from the year before.

Ironically, some of that revenue will go to the Vikings stadium.

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