E-pulltabs starting to show up

NORTHROP – Electronic pulltabs have made their way into southern Minnesota.

Aajax Likker in Northop became the first bar in Martin County to offer the games last week, followed closely by Granada Bar and Grill in Granada, and Rail Yard Bar and Grill in Trimont.

E-pulltabs are gambling games played on iPads.

For football fans, the local emergence of e-pulltabs offers a way to support their team. A portion of the proceeds will fund the Vikings stadium, a plan that has not taken off as quickly as lawmakers expected.

According to the Associated Press, the machines have been installed in just 140 bars, far fewer than the goal of 2,500 by October, causing concern about the state’s ability to pay its $348 million share of the $975 million stadium through electronic gaming.

In Northrop, however, the games are a hit.

“We have a lot of Vikings fans who come in and want to support the stadium,” said Jim Tow, owner of Aajax.

Manager Sandy Olson said that since the bar began offering the games just over a week ago, it has seen an increase in sales and the customer feedback is positive.

“People have fallen in love with it because it is like a mini-casino,” she said. “The only time you need the bartender is to put money on or cash out.”

To use the games, a patron pays the bartender an amount he would like to play, which is then loaded onto the iPad program. The patron can then choose from eight different games, moving between them when as he tires of one.

Olson says it seems like money lasts longer on e-pulltab machines than with paper pulltabs.

“We have had people put $20 in and play for four hours,” she said.

Still, the devices can seem intimidating for some. Olson has a regular older customer who plays paper pulltabs but promises one of these days he will try the electronic version.

“Some people are afraid they will hit the wrong button,” she said, “but [the iPads] are really user-friendly.”

To qualify for e-pulltabs, a bar is required to have a charity sponsor in addition to paper pulltabs, and is responsible for installing the required secure wi-fi. All three Martin County establishments offering e-pulltabs are sponsored by Fox Lake Conservation Club.

Pulltabs have been a significant source of income for the club, said gambling manager Doug Hartke. The group sponsors seven paper pulltab machines around Martin County. While data is not yet available indicating how much revenue e-pulltab machines will bring in, Hartke said the paper machines gross $20,000 per month.

Fox Lake Conservation Club donates about 70 percent of the income to non-profits and Department of Natural Resources projects, and the remaining 30 percent is used for club projects.

E-pulltab machines don’t cost the club any more than the paper pulltabs, but there is an investment on the part of the bar owner. The cost to install the secure wi-fi can run around $1,000, and that is if there are no hiccups in installation.

“It was a little more expensive than I anticipated,” Olson said.

Still, the investment has proved worth it so far. Within the first five days of offering the devices, the bar saw an increase in participation.

“We have sold more electronic pulltabs [in five days] than we have paper ones in two weeks,” Olson said.

The state has limited the number of e-pulltab machines to six per establishment. Aajax has four, with hopes of expanding as demand increases.

“We are hanging in there; we are keeping afloat,” Olson said. “We love our customers and we love new faces. We hope to see even more new faces in the next year.”

Hartke said the new faces are key to making e-pulltabs a success. While the sponsor gets the same income whether a patron is playing a paper pulltab or e-pulltab, Hartke doesn’t want to lose business on the paper products.

“It is a volume business,” he said.

There isn’t enough data on the three area bars currently offering e-pulltabs for the conservation club to decide whether it will install the devices in its other four paper pulltab locations.

“After a month or two of data, I will review it and see,” Hartke said. “I think it is an effort between bars, the charity and the state to fund the stadium. If it is a product people want, it is a good thing.”

As for the Vikings stadium, Aajax’s Tow believes things will pick up as more bars start offering e-pulltabs.

“They don’t have [many] out there yet,” he said. “I think the desire to play them is out there.”