In the e-tab session, big money won, people lost

In the 2023 legislative session, we veterans were able to get a lot — a second omnibus bill, an expansion of the post-9/11 bonus for servicemembers lawmakers missed last year, bonding-bill funding for much-needed improvements to the Hastings Veterans Home, a formula that lets homeless veterans keep more of their disability or pension checks.

Tim Engstrom

My community, Bloomington, is on the receiving end of some funds to assist with the construction of a veterans memorial, and I am thrilled.

But with e-pulltabs, no matter how hard we in the American Legion Department of Minnesota tried, how far we leaned into the efforts, how much we sent out notices, how much we talked to state representatives and state senators, how much we rallied, how many op-eds were published in newspapers, how many TV segments were shown, we got nothing.

Not only that, things got worse.

The issue went from, “Nothing is going to happen this session” to “We are going to give you decent tax relief” to “We will get rid of the open-all button and give you less tax relief,” to “We want to scale back e-tabs into the stone ages.”

And they set the effective dates so players likely won’t see only boring games until after the 2024 election.

By being filed late in the game, the bill skipped the typical process for legislation and left less time for Minnesotans to react.

During the session, because of the frustration, there were many times I wondered: “What are we doing wrong? Could we do this differently? Maybe we ought to focus on the tax relief and not worry about the button?”

I mean, I really was perplexed by this one. I just couldn’t fathom why in the world would elected officials in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (home of the Minnesota Miracle, a place that historically cares about community) want to harm community-level charities statewide.

Heck, I was the one who told the governor, to his face, that I thought scaling back e-tabs was political suicide. “What about the kids?” I asked.

I am a father of two sons. They play youth sports. I have coached youth sports.

This affects youth activities, veterans, honor guards at funerals, schools, cities, firefighters, food shelves, many efforts to offset poverty, scholarships, medical clinics, service clubs, homeless shelters and so much more. Why hurt them?

E-tabs mainly helped offset rising costs. That $2,000 donation to a food shelf now has to be $3,000 to buy the same amount of food.

But you know what? As much as Kristy Janigo, Allen Lund, Mike Parry, Ray Kane, Mike Maxa, Pat Logan, Jennifer Havlick, Bree England, Protect Our Charities, Allied Charities of Minnesota, me, the entire American Legion of Minnesota and others had pushed and pushed, there was nothing we could do.


Because this whole damned thing was planned from the start. The lawmakers behind it weren’t going to listen, and they had the power of the purse, and they were going to make sure they got the majority they needed for the Tax Omnibus Bill to rip the guts out of e-tabs.

This entire thing is about campaign contributions. This person lost. This person won. When politicians get sore, they get even.

I am bothered by the casinos and the tribes and their severe misunderstanding of what constitutes slot machines, but I am not going to play the us-versus-them game. The tribes did advocate for tax relief for charitable gaming. Their misunderstanding led them to push for removal of the open-all button, just as they had sought in multiple failed lawsuits.

It was the politicians who scaled back e-tabs to basic mode, removing bonus games and their entire dynamic nature. It was the politicians who would not listen to our demands at the Capitol.

And it is the politicians who cared more about campaign contributions than about the people of Minnesota.

The American Legion is political in advocating for veterans and our posts, but it is a nonpartisan organization. It’s a great place to see people whose views are left, right and center working together for veterans.

But what do you do when partisans harm the Legion? Roll over? Play possum? No. We act.

We don’t have a big pile of money to make campaign contributions.

(Isn’t it just amazing in this entire e-tab session that it was the big-money interests who can hire professional lobbyists who won, and the small guys doing advocating with real people who got kicked in the gut? The pro-football stadium and the casinos win. We little guys lose.)

However, we can vote.

They are counting on this issue falling into a memory hole. Come election time, they will carpet bomb Minnesota with ads about some unrelated divisive issue and think we will forget.

Don’t forget. Vote for your community. Vote for the charities. Vote for who supports charitable gambling.

Tim Engstrom of Bloomington Post 550 is the communications director for the American Legion Department of Minnesota.