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Editor's column: We need this gamble to pay off

E-gambling is an e-bust so far, but the head of the state’s charities says there’s potential in high-tech gaming

June 1, 2013
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Here's the problem with putting all your eggs in one basket: When things don't go as planned, you're going to end up wearing those eggs on your face.

By out-kicking its coverage with grandiose projections of electronic pulltab sales, the gambling industry not only sold and suckered us, they got everyone - including the myriad charities around Minnesota - amped over the millions of dollars that would gush in from high-tech gaming, dollars that, in the eyes of Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters - were already spent as part of the state's $348 million contribution toward the Vikings' new big-box-of-glass stadium.

What has happened since 250 sites across the state have logged on to e-gambling can only be classified as a complete failure to date.

Allen Lund, executive director of Allied Charities, says his group is very concerned about the inevitable cynicism that has cropped up around the state over the underperformance of e-gambling. Lund, by the way, will be in Marshall on June 19 to help educate local charities about their chance to enhance their mission work with this new tool.

"We go out and talk to charities, and they are very cognizant of the negativism that has been out there on the whole electronic thing," Lund said. "The burden the charities are feeling is that they are the ones responsible for building this stadium; it never really was about that. That's not how this works."

Lund will be joined in Marshall on the 19th by members of the Gambling Control Board, the Department of Revenue and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association to cover all things electronic-gambling, including information on e-gaming oversight, site perspective and taxes.

He hopes a number of charity-related organizations show up to learn about e-gambling and perhaps drop some of their negative feelings toward it.

"This is not about the stadium, this is not about taxes, it's about what this vehicle can do to enhance the mission work for our charities," he said. "We believe it is a valuable tool and will prove to be a valuable tool. All we're saying is, 'Come and take a look at it and talk to people who have experienced it.'"

Lund said they won't sugarcoat this issue, either, but he's prepared for skepticism, because no one can deny that e-gambling has gotten off to a rocky start.

"It's truly been Murphy's Law - anything that can go wrong has went wrong" concerning the introduction of expanded gambling, he said. "It has not been a smooth road at all."

Part of the problem, Lund said, is many involved in the process of starting e-gambling didn't realize how technical everything would be, especially when it comes to linked bingo, which allows bingo fanatics from hundreds of different sites to compete for the same pot. And that problem is exacerbated since linked bingo was expected to be the biggest driver of revenue.

"Most of us didn't realize how technical these games are," he said. "It's one thing when you're talking about one location, but when you start to link them up it's really complicated. And when you're doing something new and are out in front, you don't have much to hide behind. We have nothing to hide behind."

The good thing is, it appears they're not trying to hide. That would only make a bad situation worse and they know it. The stop in Marshall is one of nine Lund and the other agency representatives will make this month across Minnesota. The meetings are open to qualified charities that operate gaming.

"Our message is primarily to Minnesota charities that this is an opportunity to enhance their work with a new tool and that new tool is electronic gambling," he said. "We'll talk about what it takes to get involved, the costs, the learning curves. And most important, what it means for their bottom line."

It should be noted that the system hasn't really kicked into high gear yet and e-bingo games have only recently been introduced. Plus, not all bars and legion halls have put e-gambling to use (and some surely never will), so there's a chance there is some light at the end of this tunnel. In the meantime, the Legislature put Plan B into effect during the session by rejiggering some taxes to go toward paying for the stadium.

"The Legislature did us a huge favor by coming up with back-up plans, so we don't have the daily pressure of looking at where we're at with electronic gambling," Lund said. "That talk has subsided greatly now, and we appreciate what the Legislature did."

Those back-ups notwithstanding, Plan A remains in play, and the onus will still fall on e-gambling to bring in money to help pay for the stadium. So, until that revenue stream goes from trickle to flood, no one need bother wiping any yolk off their face.

 
 

 

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