E-pulltabs: What we know now

MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Express Games’ Jon Weaver says his iPad-based electronic pull-tabs collected their 1 millionth dollar of wagers last night at the Power House bar in Proctor.

In financial terms, that’s barely even a drop in the bucket. The state projected earlier this year that the games would rake in $1.3 billion in NEW sales annually. That will more than doubling the size of the $1B charitable gambling industry in Minnesota, according to Gambling Control Board executive director Tom Barrett.

Think of it this way: the projections are for more than $100 million a month in bets these things are expected to rake in. Each device is expected to net about $35 a day, and taxes on the games are expected to raise nearly $60 million a year to cover debt service on the state bonds for the new Vikings stadium.

“We’re still looking at snapshots,” Weaver said. “But I think we’re still ahead of schedule and there are a lot of naysayers out there, who claimed that this product wouldn’t be attractive to people in Minnesota. And I think we’re quickly dispelling those opinions.”

That said, Weaver says there have been some lessons learned since the games debuted on September 18th. Although state law allows up to a dozen devices per location, it looks like that may be a little much. Some are sitting idle behind the bar.  “I think in some locations, we have too many devices,”  Weaver said. “I think the ideal number is five or six, and I think that may be the ideal number across the board.”

That may be a big deal — the projections for sales and tax revenue were based on a total number of devices, in nearly 3,000 bars and restaurants across the state. Less devices could mean less betting. But Weaver says not to worry: “I think we all have to put it in perspective that this is just starting, and its exceeding everybody’s expectations.”

Here’s how he explains it:

If you look at the majority of what generated that revenue, its maybe an average of 18 sites (since Sept. 18th). So you generated 1 percent of the revenue with less than 1 percent of the total sites — if the numbers are correct, it would be 2,500 sites that would take advantage of having electronics that currently have paper. By the way, I get calls from charities and sites that currently do not offer paper, and are interested in doing electronics. So that shows there’s interest in broadening the market, which I think is the goal of the legislation.

And he isn’t stopping there, either. Weaver says he’s opened a sales office in Middleburg, Va. in three weeks. Virginia authorized electronic pull-tabs years ago, but hasn’t been able to get its games up and running. “We fell pretty comfortable that all of our licensing and approval will be granted, I would say by the end of November, Thanksgiving,” Weaver says. “And we hope that before the end of the year, we can get our first units going in Virginia.”