Charitable gambling takes a hit with bars, restaurants closed

The Bemidji Youth Hockey Association is one of many hockey programs around the state that relies on charitable gambling for fundraising.

It is especially important this year for Bemidji to help pay for a new sheet of ice that just opened this fall.

"Everybody was looking forward to being able to practice and playing on a new sheet of ice," said Bemidji Youth Hockey Association President Bruce Hasbargen.

But due to a COVID-19 pause, the rink sits empty.

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Yet expenses still exist

"We still have the cost of operating the rink even though we’re in a pause," he added.

Veterans groups and churches also benefit from charitable gambling. But when the state shut down in the spring, those dollars dried up completely.

The Minnesota State Gambling Control Board says sales bounced back a bit during the summer months, but another pause is concerning for organizations.

"We have really kind of run into a few snags here with the bars having to close down," Hasbargen said.

Bemidji isn’t alone, ten of the top 20 earning organizations that participate in the legal gaming industry in Minnesota are hockey associations.

Gary Danger, a compliance officer with the Minnesota Gambling Control Board says the state was on track to reach record charitable gambling sales of $2.5 billion before COVID-19 hit.

"When the shut downs occurred in mid-March, that was on track to be the largest month of sales ever in the history of charitable gambling over the last 30 some years," he explains.