Charitable Bingo Machine Offers Biggest Nontribal Jackpot Ever in Minnesota

Electronic charitable gaming machines in Minnesota continue to have an up-and-down history. Months after many people suggested ECGs in Minnesota were a thing of the past, a woman in Eveleth won the biggest jackpot in Minnesota electronic charitable gambling machine history.

The winner was Audrey Blackwood, who won over $71,000 while playing digital bingo at the Roosevelt Bar in Eveleth. The jackpot easily topped the previous-best pot of $6,000, which was won in 2008 on a traditional game. Bigger prizes have been won on tribal games in Minnesota, but this was the biggest nontribal charitable bingo prze.

Digital Bingo

The jackpot prize marked an importal milestone in charitable gaming in the state. The fact the prize was won playing digital bingo is important. Tom Barrett, Executive Director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, says that only about 85 of the eligible charitable gambling locatiosn in the state offer digital gaming. That is roughly 225 of about 2800 sites, though about 35 sites have signed up for digital gaming in the past six months. That could increase in the near-future.

Gross sales in June 2015 has reached about $1.25 million, though sales in May 2015 reached just over $5 million. That shows the wild fluctuations possible when big prizes are being handed out.

Pilot Games Helps in Turnaround

Jon Weaver, the CEO of Pilot Games, says the gaming machine which gave Blackwood her prize, the VooDoo Guru Flash Bingo machine, is a popular choice in St. Cloud bars. Pilot Games machines are becoming more popular throughout the state, said ED Tom Barrett.

In fact, Pilot Games appears to be a big reason for the resurgence of electronic charitable gaming machines in the state of Minnesota. Not that long ago, electronic pull-tabs flopped in the state. A referendum was passed that was supposed to fund the Minnesota Vikings new stadium using the electronic pull-tabs, but the machines pulled in very little revenue. $100 million had been the estimate, but the real totals were nowhere near that amount.

Allied Charities and Express Games

Allied Charities of Minnesota handled about half of the electronic pull-tab machines in the state, so that organization received much of the blame. Express Games, which offered iPad gaming at the bars and dining establishments of Minnesota, pulled in about 8x more revenue per machine, but they were not in enough venues.

In 2014, Pilot Games became the main purveyor of charitable EGMs in Minnesota. The execution by Pilot Games has been brilliant according to most estimates. Pilot Games won an award at the first-annual Gaming App Awards in London late last year.

Triple Crown and CLIMB

Existing companies also appear to have had a turnaround. A year ago, both CLIMB and the St. Cloud-based Triple Crown were investigated by police. Warrants alleged there had been improper pull-tab conduct at a Ramsey bar, so raids were conducted at venues in St. Cloud, Iowa, and Elk River.

Tom Barrett says the establishments investigated have “taken corrective measures” to make certain those irregularities never happen again. While the investigation is still open, Barrett said that the Gaming Control Board wants to wrap up those investigations soon and no charges have been filed in the case. He suggested no charges would be filed.

Theater Production Company Funding

Meanwhile, the money raised by charitable gaming is being put to good use. For instance, the CLIMB Theatre of Inver Grove Heights received $1.8 million in fiscal year 2014 from the gaming machines. The traveling theater production troupe has brought shows to St. Cloud, including two performances at St. Katharine Drexel School in October 2014.

Most US states these days rely upon some form of gambling to help fund the state treasury. In most cases, the state lottery is the chief source of revenue. Some states want to help smaller communities while paying down public debt or adding cash to the state fund. In those cases, they have a choice between a brick-and-mortar casino which might provide 1000 or more jobs, a racetrack in a time when horse racing and dog racing is losing popularity, or gaming machine legalization to help Mom-and-Pop stores.

Minnesota chose to go with that third option, while trying to fund a billion-dollar sports arena initiative. That process was a dismal failure at first, but it appears that Minnesotans have finally turned the corner and have a winning gaming machine niche.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on,, and

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