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Local gaming goes electronic

American Legion gambling manager Jon Edman said he's introducing electronic pulltabs slowly to give sellers a chance to get used to them.

The ripping and tearing of traditional paper pulltabs has a modern, electronic companion these days at the Rosemount American Legion.

Since Dec. 21, Legion visitors looking for a chance at a jackpot have had the opportunity poke, prod and swipe at electronic screens. The Legion is the only location in Rosemount and one of just four in Dakota County to offer the electronic pulltabs, approved last year to help pay for the state's share of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

For Jon Edman, the Legion's gambling manager, adding the touchscreen machines is all about offering patrons something new.

"I've got to offer multiple forms of entertainment, types of gambling just because that's what my customers want," Edman said.

Still, Edman wasn't quick to jump on the electronic bandwagon. Cost was the biggest concern. The first company the state approved to offer E-pulltabs required a $1,000 startup payment and a high-speed Internet connection dedicated to the devices. When the state approved two more companies last month, Edman found one that worked for him.

Adoption of the devices has been slow across the state. As of last week, 120 Minnesota businesses were offering E-pulltabs. Early projections called for the devices to be in 2,500 sites by July 1.

The devices, chunky rectangles of black plastic, are gradually finding an audience in Rosemount. Edman hasn't done much advertising yet. He wants his sellers to get used to the system before he really starts getting the word out.

Aside from the form factor, E-tabs work much like their paper counterpart. Customers visit the Legion's pulltab booth and get their driver's license scanned so the seller knows who has what machine. Then, they hand over as much cash as they want to gamble. That limit is set in the machine, which adds and deducts credits as the player plays. Re-upping requires another trip to the booth.

Each machine links to a selection of pulltab jars - the electronic equivalent of the clear plastic boxes that hold the paper tabs. Just like those plastic boxes, each electronic jar holds a set number of winning tickets. The jars are set to pay out at an 85 percent rate.

There are electronic pulltab games that range from 25 cents to $5. Most of what Edman offers at the Legion are $1, the same as with the paper tabs.

Maybe the biggest difference between in-hand and on-screen pulltabs is the information players have going in. Where the physical pulltab boxes have big-payout prizes crossed off as they are claimed, state law does not allow notification of big payouts for the E-tabs. In other words, players have no idea how many of an electronic jar's 10 $200 prizes have been claimed.

Edman says just like with paper pulltabs, he pulls electronic jars out of service once there is little left for players to win. He wants players to have fun and keep playing, not get frustrated with a long string of losers.

"If I see that a lot of winners have gone out of there, I'm going to make the assumption that's a dead deal and I'm going to close it," he said. "If they play, I make a little bit. If they don't play, I make nothing."

So far, the E-tabs have gotten mixed reviews at the Legion. Some people prefer the old-fashioned game. Some argue it's easier to play paper pulltabs with friends, but Edman said he's seen a group of players pass around the electronic devices, too.

"I've seen people play the electronics for a while and either win or not win and switch to paper, or vice versa," Edman said.

Edman has high hopes for the electronic future at the Legion. The club already offers a local electronic Bingo game that allows players to mark their cards with the push of a button, and Edman expects state approval in February for a statewide electronic Bingo game that would play on the pulltab devices. That game would offer Bingo nearly 24 hours a day as long as at least two players in Minnesota want to play.

"I think it's going to be a good addition," Edman said.