Minn. Control Board discusses extent of gambling expansion

Jul 9, 2012 8:23 PM

It was agreed when Minnesota lawmakers approved the construction of the nearly $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium, with nearly half the expense being borne by taxpayers, that gambling would be the vehicle used to generate needed revenues.

Just how much of a role gambling would play in the future of Minnesotans is developing as the Minnesota Gambling Control Board drafts equipment standards that bring gambling expansion from the drawing board to reality.

The approved electronic pull-tabs and bingo games are central to a plan to retire hundreds of millions of dollars in public stadium debt.

New hand-held gambling devices will soon be found in the state’s bars and restaurants. The proposed standards require that they not resemble video slot machines; that they must allow for independent integrity checks; that they need to cap the price of each game at $5 and that they have to contain safeguards against hackers or anyone attempting to rig games.

“There is a sense of urgency,” said Tom Barrett, the executive director of the Board.

“Bars want them. Charities want them,” Barrett said. However, it was acknowledged that there still remain some unknowns as vendors and manufacturers attempt to understand the requirements.

A key challenge, said one vendor, is how to employ the full range of the touchscreen technology and the allure of animation without creating the feel of a casino game. One requirement for the portable consoles: “Has no spinning reels or other representation that mimics a video slot machine.”

“If a feature has been on a video slot machine or if it might in the future be on a video slot machine, could that not render a similar feature on an electronic pull-tab illegal as mimicking a video slot machine?” asked a vendor.

Barrett admits that “evolving technology” adds to the complexity or the problem. He noted that the devices could resemble iPads or smartphones but there will be a strict prohibition against using them for anything other than pull-tab or bingo games.

Among the suggestions being offered to the regulators are that they clearly lay out what happens in cases of equipment malfunctions, lost power or hiccups with wireless networks. Participants need to know they’ll be property cashed out if something goes wrong, offered one vendor.

By using gambling devices, lawmakers are betting that the annual tax collections from pull-tabs and bingo will more than double from $37 million to almost $95 million when the games are fully implemented by mid-2013. Wagering totals are expected to reach $2.3 billion.