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Movement aims at restoring local gambling profits

A collection of pull tabs at a Perham establishment.

When you listen to former Ottertail Lions Club President Jerry Smith speak about the $2.5 million the organization took in through pull tabs last year, it seems like a staggering sum.

Yet, as he breaks down how the money was taxed, and was dramatically depleted by state regulations, the end sum the Lions were able to give to charity is comparatively miniscule.

Smith reported that the community, through charitable gambling donations, received little more than 1 percent of the gross sales generated at Ottertail Lions gambling counters, which are located at The Otter, Amor Rumors and Shoreline in Battle Lake.

Smith and several area bar and restaurant owners were present at a Nov. 17 West Central Beverage Association meeting at The Otter Supper Club and Lodge in Ottertail city. The group's discussion centered around how to combat problems non-profits and businesses face with the state's current gambling restrictions--including competition from Native American gaming operations.

Tony Chesak, interim director with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association attended the meeting to speak with those gathered about current efforts to provide more gambling rights to those in the food-beverage and charitable gambling sectors.

He provided information about the progress of a pending Minnesota lawsuit which has the intent of re-opening the Indian Gaming Compact signed in 1990 by Governor Rudy Perpich. The MLBA is supporting an effort by a special interest group to provide charitable organizations and liquor-vending establishments with more gambling privileges.

Chesak sought to rally the support of local business owners, asking that they consider signing their names in support of re-opening the Indian Gaming Compact or give money to help facilitate the legal process.

"What do you have to lose?" Chesak questioned those in attendance. "You haven't seen a light at the end of the tunnel as on-salers in 25 years."

From Chesak's perspective, the state's current gambling limitations have almost destroyed local businesses.

"Pawlenty is very anti-expansion of gambling," reported Chesak, of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's stance on the issue. Chesak said that gambling is a very tough topic at the capital right now.

As Chesak presented it, the first step for area businesses and non-profits seeking to acquire certain gambling rights is to get a lawsuit, instigated by former South Dakota governor and U.S. Representative Bill Janklow, filed with the state. They then must get a ruling that the Indian Gaming Compact is unconstitutional.

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives website, "The annual volume of gambling at Minnesota's casinos was estimated in a September 2004 report from the Minnesota State Lottery as being "in excess of $10 billion."" The site goes on to explain that "this would put the gross revenues from those casinos at a minimum of $1 billion."

With the state's Native American casinos generating such a large amount of money annually, local bar owners are looking for a way to cash in on a larger share of the gambling market. One option Chesak supports is putting Bingo on bar top video machines.

This type of Bingo could feature a progressive statewide Jackpot, sure to draw the interest of bar patrons. The machines would be run through a code device, so no currency is directly accepted for the Bingo game. Patrons would be given a pin number that they would need to enter in order to play.

The West Central Beverage Association was formed in 1983. The group, comprised of area charitable organizations and bar-restaurant owners, meets once a month at a different location throughout the region. They are a sister association of the MLBA.

For more information on the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, visit: