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Electronic Pull-Tab Gambling Hits The iPad In Minnesota Bars

Sep 20, 2012
Originally published on September 20, 2012 4:30 pm

Minnesota gamblers no longer have to rip paper pull-tabs to see if they've won cash: As of this week, they can use iPads to play, and play again, at the click of a button. The venture was sparked by the need to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, which will cost an estimated $975 million.

In addition to replacing the old Metrodome, backers of the electronic games say they'll make it easier for groups of people to play together and will lure younger gamblers, as well.

The Minnesota system, which seems to be the first of its kind in the United States, received final approval from the state's Gambling Control Board this week. The agency's approved iPads are already available at a handful of bars, where patrons can play at their own table or at the counter. The games have titles like "Treasures of the Jungle" and "Big Money Heist."

On an iPad, "electronic pull tabs" can look a lot like a slot machine: Fruits, numerals and other symbols appear at random, and players win cash when they land in the right pattern. Gamblers can place bets of either $1 or $2; boxes at the bottom of the screen keep a running tally of players' cash reserves and how much they've won.

In St. Paul, the Pioneer Press's Tad Vezner breaks down how the games' proceeds are distributed:

  • 85 percent goes back to players
  • 3 percent to charities
  • 5.4 percent to the state
  • 2.25 percent to the bar
  • 4.35 percent to rent the iPad from gaming companies

Vezner also spoke to a patrons of O'Gara's Bar and Grill, one of the first places to get the machines:

"'I fully believe it is rigged for you to win today,' said Mike Monfort, who won $28. 'Pull-tabs out in Michigan, you very rarely won. Everybody seems to be winning today. Come tomorrow, let's see how they do.'

"Next to him, Pat Lynch said he didn't think so. 'It's so regulated.'

"'How long does it take?' asked Chris, another O'Gara's regular who declined to give his full name.

"'It's pretty quick,' Monfort replied.

"'Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of. I'll be broke in two months.'"

In the pull-tab system, each bar receives a pool of games — presumably to guarantee an even playing field. Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio calls the new system "the biggest expansion of gambling in Minnesota in a generation."

Nelson explains a bit more about how it works: "The iPad-based devices run software from a Minnesota based server. Internet connections and dedicated Wi-Fi networks bring the games to gamblers in real time."

A video from local KARE-11 show the games in action.

"The Minnesota network is designed to operate with 25,000 electronic pull-tab terminals," according to the website of Acre 4.0, a Nevada-based gambling firm who developed the first pull-tab games being used in Minnesota.

"All the accounting and gaming activity occurs on a central server," says Warren White, Acre 4.0's vice president of engineering, "and is accessed by the clients" — in this case, the tablets at the bars or clubs. The devices are limited to serving as gaming platforms.

In addition to pull-tabs, patrons at Minnesota bars, restaurants, and American Legion posts will also likely be able to play bingo — a game that has already become a big money-maker on the iPad, even without real cash payouts. White confirms that there is "certainly a lot of interest" in bingo on the iPads.

As Tech Crunch reported last week, bingo game maker BitRhymes is on pace to bring in $45 million in revenue this year, on the strength of its Bingo Bash game for mobile and Facebook.

BitRhymes CEO Sumit Gupta believes "there looks to be a huge opportunity here in terms of transitioning from online social gaming to real-money casino play," Tech Crunch writes.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.