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Game on: Julie Nienhueser of Detroit Lakes played an electronic pulltab game at Zorbaz while she waited for her sister and father last week. Brian Basham/Record

E-pulltabs come to DL

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E-pulltabs come to DL
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

There’s a new game in town and it will be benefitting one of the more popular sports in Detroit Lakes at one of the busiest hangouts in town.

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The Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey Association, in conjunction with Zorbaz on the Lake, will be running electronic pulltabs, a new charitable gaming option approved by the Legislature last year.

Electronic pulltabs is the main funding source for the state’s contribution to the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium, which will cost nearly $1 billion.

The state will pay about $350 million towards the new stadium, money that is supposed to come from electronic pulltabs. Construction on the stadium will start this fall.

The new charitable game is off to a slow start, but things are picking up.

The addition of electronic pulltabs at Zorbaz will have immediate benefits locally, with the youth hockey group using it as another fundraising tool, which will garner 35-40 percent of the profits.

“E-Tabs is just an option to expand on our charity fundraising,” said DLYHA fundraising coordinator Mike Schiltz. “We thought it would be a great fundraiser and 100-percent of what we gain, goes back to the kids.”

The DLYHA started looking hard at electronic pulltabs after the Legislature passed the bill to allow it.

After months of filling out licenses and exploring costs; going through training and running the project; electronic pulltabs made their first appearance at Zorbaz on March 1.

The DLYHA also sells the old fashioned paper pulltabs at Zorbaz, as well, for those traditional players.

Schiltz and Chad Carlblom, who sits on the DLYHA gaming commission, are the two who run the electronic pulltabs for Zorbaz and thus far, it’s been a daily job – all of which is volunteer time.

“I stop in daily to see how things are running and the state is open 24/7 if any problems arise,” Schiltz said. “It’s been a lot of hours for Chad and I, but we are truly doing it for the kids.”

Electronic tabs slowly catching on

As of March 1, only 86 establishments in Minnesota are using electronic pulltabs.

That low number, for an array of reasons, means the state has fallen well short of its projected numbers for raising the $350 million in four years to help fund the Vikings’ stadium.

But where the electronic pulltabs are being sold, they’re a hit, thus far.

In the first month electronic pulltabs were available, $642,000 was raised.

But by Dec. 24, the total amount was $4 million — far short of what state officials were hoping for, mostly due to the lack of businesses offering the games.

With Zorbaz being the lone business in a wide area offering electronic pulltabs, the DLYHA is hoping it will benefit from being on the ground floor of a blossoming fundraising venture.

Having charitable gambling is also new for Zorbaz, which tried it over 20 years ago, but found it never really stuck.

Zorbaz does get a fee from the DLYHA for rental space for the games, with their bartenders running the games during business hours. Employees are not allowed to play the electronic pulltabs, though, on or off the clock.

Zorbaz managing partner Tate Jansen said the opportunity of helping out the community and the DLYHA was an attraction.

“It’s something new to offer customers and a chance to help the kids,” Jansen said. “It’s cool we are also one of the first to offer it in the area, too.”

The closest business that is offering electronic pulltabs is Mills Lounge in Dilworth.

The Dilworth Lions Club has run the paper pulltabs in Mills Lounge for quite a while and just added the electronic version 11 weeks ago — the sixth business in the state to do so.             

Schiltz and Carlblom inquired with the Dilworth group on how things were going and up to now, it’s been a very good success.

“The crowds have liked the games and the (funds) have gone up and the Lions Club has been able to give more money than previously,” said Dilworth Lions’ Gaming Manager Brent Kangas. “The system is very user friendly for customers and the bartenders running them.”

The inconvenience of the bartenders running the electronic pulltabs has been a big detractor to many businesses to adding the games.

Although it’s only been a little over three weeks since Zorbaz has had the electronic pulltabs, Jansen said his workers have adapted well to the added responsibilities.

“We have a designated area for players to go to play and pay and our employees are dedicated to running it,” Jansen said.

Mills Lounge owner Rick Cariveau said it hasn’t been an inconvenience for his employees.

“It’s very user friendly,” he said. “Most of our employees are older and not as technology savvy, but they caught on easy to it. The customers also have liked playing them, because it’s so easy to use.”

Schiltz said after helping train the Zorbaz staff, it caught on pretty easy.

“Tate’s staff has just been phenomenal,” Schiltz said. “They have communicated well and have been receptive of helping out.”

Playing electronic pulltabs

The electronic pulltabs are played on an iPad, which are placed around the bar area on stands.

To play, a customer – who has to be 18 or older — will bring one of the iPads up to the designated area at the bar and pay cash for however much they want to play, after showing a driver’s license or valid identification.

The bartender will punch in the amount paid at a sales terminal only accessible to employees.

The customer can then take the wireless unit back to their table to play the games, until they want to cash-out or they run out of the credits they purchased.

“You can put in $2 or $200 and there are different concepts for games to keep you busy playing,” Carlblom said. “You can win up to $599, since one line can win you up to $200.”

The games featured are similar to the paper pulltabs, but the system also has a three-in-a-row game which can deliver prizes, as well.

Zorbaz has four iPads for use, which have seven games available to play.

One satisfied customer who played electronic pulltabs for the first time in Zorbaz was Julie Nienhuser of Detroit Lakes, who walked out with $22 profit.

“I am not a big gambler at all, but this was definitely fun,” Nienhuser said. “It’s easy to play and I love the payback. I’ll definitely play it again.”

That’s been the normal reaction at Mills Lounge, as well, Cariveau said.

“We’ve had a very positive response from our patrons and employees,” Cariveau said. “We have four iPads with 20 games available, so there’s a big selection for our customers.”

Cariveau added running electronic pulltabs has been a more convenient venture for his employees, as well, since they don’t have to count out paper pulltabs and it eliminates the paper trail.

Slow to catch on, so far

When electronic pulltabs were passed by the Legislature last year, the goal was to have them in over 200 establishments by year’s end.

The slow start has not been the fault of the bars offering it, it’s been the state and vendors who have been selected to distribute the games, Cariveau said.

The tax, which goes to help fund the Vikings stadium, is not collected from bars until a game is “closed out,” which can take up to two or three months.

A game is closed out when the majority of the prizes have been handed out for that certain pulltab game on the iPad.

Also, vendors have been slow to get machines out, which has been a big hindrance.

“The money which goes to the state isn’t taken out until a game is closed out,” Cariveau said. “That really has slowed down the revenue going to the state. Each game is different on how long it takes to be played out.”

A potential boost to sales in the coming year is the passage of E-bingo, which was approved by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.

E-bingo will join electronic pulltabs on the same devices and potentially could offer up to $75,000 pots, since the games will be linked statewide.

It’s another avenue both the DLYHA and the Dilworth Lions Club will explore when E-bingo expands.

“We are busy with electronic pulltabs now and would eventually like to expand to six iPads at Zorbaz,” Schiltz said. “But we will see what E-bingo is about at a later date.”

Another concern of customers is the potential for power outages and the loss of information and prizes if that occurs.

But each iPad is backed up instantly to the main server in St. Paul, so no information will be lost.

For people who think they can also steal a new iPad, think again.

Once the electronic pulltab iPad leaves the premises, it no longer will be connected to the wireless network and it can’t be used as a regular iPad or for anything else.

“It’s also a durable piece of hardware and it’s a piece which is familiar to most people,” Schiltz said.

There are several reasons people will play the new electronic pulltabs — the chance to pay for your bar tab; the enjoyment of playing video games to helping out young hockey players; or if you’re a Vikings fan, the chance to support the stadium effort – it can cater to a host of people.

But even if you don’t win, everyone wins in the end.

“You can walk away not a winner, but you can walk away knowing you helped out a bunch of kids,” Schiltz said.

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Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN. 
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