Jul 29, 2014

Hopkins on Track to Approve Electronic Bingo

Following a meeting with local organizations, the City Council appears ready to allow the devices in Hopkins establishments.

Hopkins on Track to Approve Electronic Bingo

City officials are ready to welcome electronic bingo to Hopkins following a meeting Tuesday night with local charitable gambling managers and the businesses that host their organizations.

The managers said they’re fine with allowing electronic bingo in Hopkins as long as it doesn’t pave the way to full-scale bingo halls that would hurt organizations already running bingo games.

“Times change. You have to go back and look at why times changed and where we’re at,” Mayor Gene Maxwell said.

Legislators last year allowed charities to use electronic gaming devices under the theory that they’d lead to an increase in charitable gambling—resulting in more money for both the charities and the state, which already gets a cut of charitable gaming. The state is counting on the devices, which will eventually have both bingo and electronic pulltabs, to help pay for about one-third of the new Vikings stadium— although that’s not happening as expected.

Charitable organizations hope the bigger pots increase the number of customers, and they fear that not having electronic bingo will cause them to lose business to places that do have it.

But in Hopkins, existing legislative policies only allow organizations to host bingo games in locations they own and operate. That prevents organizations, including those that already conduct pulltab games in local bars, from using electronic gaming devices that also include bingo.

The City Council created the policy years ago in order to close off Hopkins to the standalone bingo halls that were sprouting across the metro at the time. Policies also require organizations to occupy a site for five years before they can receive a premises permit and explicitly prohibits sites whose primary purpose is gambling.

But state law caps electronic bingo machines at between six and 12 machines, depending on the size of the establishment. (Up to 50 devices are allowed in places where bingo is the primary business.)

“It seems this is dramatically different from traditional bingo,” Assistant City Manager Jim Genellie said.

Susie Normandin, gambling manager for the Hopkins Raspberry Festival, agreed: “It’s six machines or 12 machines versus sometimes the VFW has 200 people down there.”

Hopkins plans to carve out a narrow exception for electronic bingo instead of removing bingo restrictions altogether. That would allow the new devices without opening the doors to standalone bingo halls.

Because electronic bingo has been slow to roll out, Hopkins is taking a deliberate approach to changing its legislative policy. It will send out proposed wording to charitable organizations in February and likely vote on the measure at the City Council’s March 5 meeting.


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