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Committee-approved bill would pull back on electronic pull tabs

To help fund the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, the Legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing gambling using electronic pulltabs, with the caveat that they mimic the paper game and not look and play like slot machines.

That provision was to allay concerns of tribal governments who wanted assurances the new games would not infringe on their casino gaming rights.

Since then, says Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), electronic pulltab games have indeed come to look and play like slot machines. He sponsors a bill that would stop that.

“To me, there is no question that the games being played today are far outside the scope of the deal that was negotiated in 2012,” Stephenson said.

“I think it’s particularly important for us to honor and keep the promises that we make to our tribal governments in recognition of the long history that our government has of failing to keep its promises with treaties and otherwise with Indigenous people in our country,” he said.

The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved HF2366, as amended, 12-5 Tuesday and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. The companion, SF1863, sponsored by Sen. Tom Bakk (I-Cook), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

The bill would specify that electronic pulltab games “may only display symbols typically associated with paper pull-tab tickets, may not include continuation play, bonus games, or additional screens … and may not display or simulate any other form of gambling, entertainment, slot machines, electronic video lotteries, or video games of chance.”

The new types of e-pulltab games are much more attractive to players, Stephenson said, which makes them much more profitable for bars and restaurants, as well as the nonprofit organizations that receive a portion of the charitable gambling revenue they generate.

Stephenson admits these businesses could possibly lose revenue, so he successfully offered an amendment that would extend until Sept. 6, 2022, the date by which game manufacturers would have to make their machines compliant.

“It doesn’t make sense to change the rules right now,” said Mike Jennings, owner of three west-metro restaurants and a board member of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, especially when hospitality industry businesses are suffering so much from pandemic-related shutdowns.

“It’s just going to be another devastating blow to our industry,” he said.

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