Rochester charities, along with local bars and restaurants, need your support.

In St. Paul, some politicians are pushing to eliminate electronic pull tabs, which provide $30 million per year to Minnesota charities. The state House of Representatives recently passed House File 2366. The bill eliminates games that “display or simulate any other form of gambling, entertainment, slot machines, electronic video lotteries, or video games of chance." The bill’s Senate companion, Senate File 1863, is awaiting legislative action.

Rochester-area charities that have been helped by e-pull tab proceeds include Rochester American Legion Post 92; the Rochester Juvenile Hockey Association; Rochester Elks Lodge 1091; the Rochester Police Benevolent Association of Rochester; the Dover Fire Relief Association; the Rochester Water Ski Club; the Byron Youth Football Association; VFW Post 1215 Rochester; the Hiawatha Sno-Seekers; and Eagles Aerie 2228 Zumbro Rochester.

The elimination of e-pull tabs would not only devastate our charities. It will crush our local bars and restaurants just as they are starting to dig out of the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenue from e-pull tabs helps these small businesses make ends meet and stay afloat.

E-pull tabs were authorized by the legislature in 2012 to help finance the Vikings stadium. At the time, the state’s Indian tribes said they would not oppose the creation of electronic games like e-pull tabs.

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Since that time, proceeds from e-pull tabs have been utilized to fund numerous charitable organizations across the state. As e-pull tabs became increasingly popular at veterans’ clubs and other establishments, the tribes started to maintain that playing electronic games on iPads in veteran's clubs and bars was like playing slot machines in a casino. An administrative law judge rejected that argument last year.

After the iPad/slot machine comparison failed with the administrative law judge, legislative allies of the tribes are now pushing to eliminate e-pull tabs at the Capitol. Some legislators are still comparing e-pull tabs to slot machines in casinos, despite the administrative law judge’s complete rejection of that claim.

A quick check of the facts shows just how devastating the elimination of e-pull tabs would be for our state’s charities, bars and restaurants. According to the fiscal note for House File 2366, “All existing electronic pull-tab and linked bingo games will be prohibited under the proposed language. Therefore, all revenue ($1,300 million per year) will be eliminated on those games.”

The note details that “Local bars selling electronic games will lose revenue” estimated at approximately $29.25 million per year. “Local wages for those conducting lawful gambling will be reduced” by an estimated $35.75 million per year. In addition, “Available funds for lawful (charitable) purposes will be reduced” by approximately $33 million per year.

This misguided legislation would devastate Minnesota charities, bars and restaurants. Our Minnesota charities and community organizations would lose millions under this last-minute scheme to end popular e-pull tabs.

Now is the time for action on behalf of our local charities, bars and restaurants. Sens. Dave Senjem and Carla Nelson have been tremendous supporters of Rochester charities in the past. Please contact them today to let them know how much you appreciate their past support and encourage them to oppose this attack on our local charities and their small business partners.

Mark Hickey, Rochester

Mark Hickey is a longtime advocate of charitable gaming in Rochester.