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21st century gambling: Rules for electronic pull tabs developing

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JAMESTOWN -- A new form of charitable gaming could receive final approval later this summer, although gaming operators in Jamestown question whether it might be feasible for their operations.

“It all depends on the rules and regulations,” said Dennis Rexin, manager of the Knights of Columbus Hall in Jamestown which operates 16 gaming sites in the region.

Jeff Paiement, executive director of Progress Enterprises, which operates four gaming sites, said his group was taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We haven’t even seen one yet,” he said, referring to the electronic pull tab machines.

Currently, the North Dakota attorney general’s office is drafting the administrative rules for electronic pull tabs. The finalized rules will then be reviewed and acted on by the interim Administrative Rules Committee of the North Dakota Legislature, which next meets on June 11.

The 2017 North Dakota Legislature approved the use of electronic pull tabs. House Bill 1216 allows charitable gaming operations to use electronic machines that accept currency and then display images on the screen similar to the paper pull tabs used by gaming sites now. The player would then touch the screen to “open” the image of the tab. The machine would print or display vouchers for winnings that would be cashed in by a bartender or operator.

“Honestly, it is just a new form of the old game of pull tabs,” said Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, who sponsored the bill.

Maragos said the electronic version of the game would reduce the amount of waste paper generated by pull tabs and be easier to monitor by the attorney general’s office. Regulations would require gaming sites to continue to offer paper pull tabs at locations with electronic devices.

Rixen said the rules as currently written place too many restrictions on the machines.

“The attorney general’s rule says they can only be in a bar,” he said. “They wouldn’t be allowed in clubs.”

The requirements state electronic pull tabs can only be placed “in a location where alcoholic beverages are dispensed and consumed and where a bar employee will regularly observe the device.”

Rexin said these requirements are more stringent than those currently in place for paper pull tabs.

Where electronic pull tab machines can operate is just one of the questions local gaming operators are asking.

The machines must also be “stand-alone cabinet style devices,” according to the draft rules. That limits its placement in smaller bars with limited seating space, Rexin said.

Maragos said he has also heard complaints from gaming operators about limits to the number of devices. The current attorney general’s office draft rules place a five-device limit on most operations but allow gaming operators to request up to 15 at some locations.

“The attorney general has been very conservative in the interpretation of the rules,” Maragos said.

Liz Brocker, public information officer for the attorney general’s office, said the department does not comment on pending rules but had posted the draft rules and the comments filed by concerned parties to its website www.attorneygeneral.nd.gov.

Maragos said the wording of the bill required the attorney general’s office to make the final rules of what he intended to be an effort to allow charitable gaming to compete for the public’s entertainment dollars.

“But I wish he’d take the charities into account as he sets the rules,” he said.

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