E-pull tab changes have charitable gambling groups concerned

Electronic pull tabs have been a huge success story in Minnesota. Now, proposed changes to scale back their features have charitable gambling groups saying they were blindsided.

"Folks, this is magical language. It simply appeared yesterday," said Keith Franke, who heads the group Protect Our Charities. "We’ve never seen it before."

The language appeared in the House DFL tax bill unveiled on Monday.

The main change is to revert e-tabs back to a simpler form, taking away an "open all" feature that lets gamblers press one button to expose all three virtual pull-tab lines at once.

But e-tab proponents say other language would require a much more significant overhaul of the games, which could take more than a year to complete. And they worry their popularity would plummet.

"This bill could virtually destroy not only our current games, but any future that charities have in electronic gambling," said Rachel Jenner, Allied Charities of Minnesota Executive Director.

Electronic pull-tabs were introduced in 2012, partly as a funding source for US Bank Stadium.

Initially just virtual replicas of paper pull tabs, they were slow to take off.

But as more slot machine type features were added, their popularity grew and the revenue with it.

In 2022, according the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, electronic pull tabs took in nearly 46 percent of all charitable gambling revenue in the state, right behind their paper cousins.

"If what the state’s trying to tell us now is that the games that we offered for the last 11 years were illegal, that seems hard to believe," said Allen Lund, Osseo American Legion Gambling Manager.

Minnesota’s tribal nations have long argued that the electronic pull-tabs violated their exclusive rights to operate slot machines.

A recent appeals court ruling that said the Gambling Control Board improperly made rules regarding e-tab approval added questions about their legality.

But the ruling did not explicitly say the e-tabs had to change.

Those changes are now included in the tax bill, and those who rely on charitable gambling are livid.

"I find it someone disingenuous that now that e-tabs have somewhat served the purpose by helping pay off the stadium early," said Josh Jungling of the Anoka Ramsey Athletic Association. "Now they want to make these sweeping changes to our e-tabs."