Electronic pull-tabs make history at Medina Entertainment Center

For those who like to indulge in a little charitable pull-tab gambling over food and refreshments, or during the lull of a televised game, things have just gotten a little more interesting.

For those who prefer gaming “paper-free,” this just might pique your interest.

Mark Scherling helps Mona Dumaas (left) and Karen Radke with Ipad play at Medina Entertainment center. (Photos by Linda Herkenhoff)
Mark Scherling helps Mona Dumaas (left) and Karen Radke with Ipad play at Medina Entertainment center. (Photos by Linda Herkenhoff)

In both cases, those behind the scenes of electronic pull tabs are laying odds that this union will revitalize the bar gambling scene, and the odds seem to be in their favor.

The Medina Entertainment Center is the first west-metro establishment to come on board with electronic pull-tabs, and eager for the opportunity.

The Hamel Lions Club runs the pull-tab booth at MEC. The club’s president, Tim Farrell, was excited about the idea from the moment he heard about it, and asked the club for approval at its September Members Meeting. After hearing the enthusiastic pitch by both Farrell and Mark Schering, the club member who manages gambling, membership gave overwhelming approval to add electronic pull tabs games to its booth in Medina. The club’s profits from the booth represent a significant percentage of its revenues, which are filtered back into the community. Veterans, physically challenged groups and individuals, as well as community programs, benefit from Hamel Lions donations.

Tracy Gaspar mans a pull tab booth that now offers Electonic pull tabs as well as the traditional paper one.
Tracy Gaspar mans a pull tab booth that now offers Electonic pull tabs as well as the traditional paper one.

The Minnesota Gambling Control Board gave its approval in September over electronic pull tabs, and the company that created the games, Express Games Minnesota, immediately rolled them out in a small test marketing sampling that included bars in St. Paul, St. Cloud, Coon Rapids and Spring Lake Park. Schering said that when they learned about this, they contacted the company for consideration, but the test markets had already been identified. The club was, however, able to secure a spot in the first leg of the full rollout in October. Three hundred operators per month can introduce the new pull-tab games.

The new games are played on Ipads, which are displayed at the booth amongst the boxes of paper tabs. A player makes a cash payment to the booth’s operator, who inputs the amount so it appears on the player’s device. Currently, there are five games available for Ipad play at MEC, with individual pulls (or taps) ranging in betting amounts from fifty cents to two dollars. The player is advised of how each play pans out by their remaining balance. A player can cash out at anytime with the attendant. The games vary in play method, but the lighted display and moving icons give a little “slot” like feeling to those familiar with casino or online gambling.

The Ipads, says Hamel Lions booth operator Tracy Gaspar, don’t get as much play as the traditional paper games yet, but they don’t go unnoticed. A lot of patrons, she says, are asking about them, while some look like they are considering the prospect.

On an October Sunday afternoon, coming up on a televised Viking’s game, Karen Radke and Mona Domaas decide to take the technological pull-tab plunge. Although new to it, both seem to get a kick out of how different it is from pulling up paper tabs; how fast they win and lose.

Radke, asked which she’d prefer to play in the future, paused for a moment before answering, “Paper, I guess. I still like to read a newspaper,” she demonstrates holding her arms out.

Ironically, she admits to having an Ipad in her purse.

It’s not just the Hamel Lions, or other charity organizations that raise dollars through charitable gambling, that will benefit by electronic pull-tabs. The breakdown is as follows:

85% of staked dollars are paid out to players, 3% goes to the sponsoring charity, 5% to the state, 2% to the sponsoring venue and the rest covers gaming costs including Ipad rental.

The state is expecting its share to help pay down the 975 million debt it is responsible for on the downtown Viking’s stadium with as much as 70 million dollars a year in taxes on pull tab gambling proceeds.

The Ipads are rented by booth sponsors who also cover software costs, but a secure, dedicated internet connection is installed by the venue. According to Schering, Medina was every bit on board as was he and Farrell.

If someone leaves the premise with an Ipad, no worries. It shuts off, completely, and theft of a gaming device is a felony.