Appeals court rules Minnesota Gambling Control Board improperly allowed ‘open-all’ pull-tabs

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An appeals court on Monday ruled Minnesota gambling regulators did not follow state law when allowing “open-all” electronic pull-tabs that Indigenous tribes claim mimic slot machines.

The pull-tabs in question let users reveal every space on a single ticket with one touch of a button. The appeals court opinion says that functionality conflicts with how Minnesota law defined electronic pull-tabs when they were legalized in 2012 to raise money for U.S. Bank Stadium.

Under that statute, players “must activate or open each electronic pull-tab ticket and each individual line, row, or column of each electronic pull-tab ticket.”

The Minnesota Gambling Control Board has authority to make rules governing electronic pull-tabs, and when Minnesota tribes raised the issue of “open-all” pull-tabs in 2019, the board notified vendors it will no longer approve games with tickets that let players reveal more than one space at a time. The board reversed course a week after getting pushback from vendors, opting to consider these games while researching the topic.

An administrative law judge had ruled in 2020 that the Gambling Control Board was acting within its power by allowing “open-all” pull-tabs. But in an appeal filed last year, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) argued the agency had not followed proper rulemaking procedures and that the “open-all” feature defied the letter of the law.

Upon learning of the appeals court decision ruling in its favor, the tribe urged the Gambling Control Board and the Legislature to act to ensure pull-tabs do not cut into casino gaming.

“The Minnesota Gambling Control Board has ignored the plain meaning and legislative intent of the law authorizing electronic pull-tabs in its approval of games which mimic slot machines,” the SMSC said in a statement. “We hope the Legislature will pass needed clarifications to ensure that electronic pull-tabs help charities raise money for worthy community causes while not undermining tribal gaming.”

Gambling Control Board Executive Director Tim Mahoney told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the appeals court ruling “seems ambiguous,” and that the board is researching its accuracy.

“We will take some time to see how we will abide by it,” he said.

Mahoney said an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court is possible, and the Gambling Control Board has 90 days to do so.

In the meantime, Mahoney said he will watch to see if the Legislature clarifies the law surrounding electronic pull-tabs. He also said the Gambling Control Board could hold a rulemaking session on the issue this summer.

Electronic pull-tabs raised $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2022, and paper pull-tabs brought in another $2.1 billion, according to the Gaming Control Board’s most recent report. The profits go to local nonprofits and charities.

In a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Sam Krueger, executive director of the Electronic Gaming Group, said he wants the Gambling Control Board to appeal Monday’s decision.

“Today’s decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals does not outlaw or ban e-pull tabs. It does not change the e-pull tab approvals previously granted by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board since 2012. The opinion does not say that the ‘open-all feature’ on any e-pull tab is illegal,” Krueger wrote.

“Despite the relentless efforts of the tribal casinos to destroy electronic charitable gaming in Minnesota, electronic pull tabs have consistently grown in popularity since their introduction in 2012,” he added. “E-pull tabs have funded numerous worthy causes, including local veterans’ groups, volunteer fire departments, youth sports teams – and by funding the state’s portion of US Bank Stadium 20 years early, electronic pull tabs benefit all Minnesota taxpayers.”