Backus American Legion gaming partnership achieves record $95,000 in charitable donations

Legion passes $1 million mark in total assistance in the history of its program.


The Backus American Legion Charitable Gaming Partnership donated a record $95,392 to charitable causes in 2020 and passed the $1 million mark in total assistance in the history of its program.

The partnership, consisting of the Legion and its longtime gaming affiliate, Willard’s Saloon & Eatery in Backus, also paid $114,230 in state taxes and another $7,469 in federal taxes, reaching another milestone: $1.1 million in state and federal taxes paid since 1991. The state again was the largest single recipient of funding.

The amount donated was more than double the $42,712 donated in 2019, a 123% increase and it exceeded the program’s previous record year donations of $79,372 in 2018.

"Strong public support for the program enabled a much needed increase in donations made to area food shelves,"

— Backus Legion Gambling Manager, Pete Williams


The chief beneficiaries in 2020 were food shelves, education, youth athletics and recreation, fire and rescue services, and programs benefiting families with hardships - almost all in the local area. Donations in the Backus-Pine River-Hackensack area totaled nearly 99% of the $95,000 plus given. Most of the remaining 1% went to veterans and military assistance programs benefiting local and statewide residents.

Among the highlights were $39,950 for community food shelves, pantries and other nutrition assistance, more than a $30,000 increase in a year with families suffering from the effects of COVID-19; $10,000 in high school scholarships; $3,000 for snowmobile trail maintenance; $7,950 for equipment for the area youth clay target league; $17,000 for Backus fire and rescue units; $1,000 for repairs at The Warehouse youth center in Pine River; $1,000 for Paws & Claws animal care; and $1,275 for a new refrigerator to store children’s lunches at Foothills Christian Academy.

“The Backus American Legion and our partner, Willard’s Saloon, would like to thank the community for supporting our charitable gaming operations,” Legion Gambling Manager Pete Williams said in a statement accompanying the post's annual report.

"Strong public support for the program enabled a much needed increase in donations made to area food shelves," Williams said.

He also said revenues allowed the partnership to provide extra and continued funding for Backus fire and rescue units, other assistance to needy families, scholarships and a large variety of youth activities - including trap and wrestling teams, rodeo and holiday gifts.

The partnership also provided funding for programs for individual veterans at homes, hospitals and recreation facilities.

Williams said the Legion and Willard’s will continue to provide well-run and entertaining forms of charitable gaming, including adding 50/50 tip boards and a paddle wheel with a betting table similar to roulette.

“Again, without all of you we would not be able to continue our charitable gaming mission. Thank you for your support,” he said.


Williams added that one indicator of the success of the Backus program is it’s statewide ranking: Although one of the smaller communities and nonprofit organizations with charitable gaming, the Legion ranked 207 out of 1,120 state-licensed organizations in gross sales last year.

And the partnership was not as negatively affected as many other licensed organizations by COVID-19 conditions because of strong public support.

Statewide, with the bar and restaurant industry negatively affected by two COVID-19 shutdown periods and capacity/social distancing restrictions, total sales for charitable gambling in fiscal year 2020 by the more than 1,100 licensed organizations were $2.1 billion, an 11% drop, according to the state Gambling Control Board.

Net profits (sales minus an average 85% payout and expenses) dropped from 180 million to $147.5 million. Charities were left with only 3 cents per dollar wagered to donate to their programs versus 3.6 cents the year before, according to Al Lund, director of Allied Charities of Minnesota.

The industry was tabbed by Legislature to pay one-third of the cost of the new Vikings stadium through increased revenues from electronic gaming. Lund said because of the success of electronic gaming the stadium fund is projected to have a $200 million surplus in 2023.

That has caught the attention of several interested parties. The Vikings have suggested paying off the 30-year bonds early; Minneapolis has suggested it be relieved of its stadium share; Gov. Tim Walz has suggested the state use some of the surplus for its budget needs.

Lund said the surplus might help the charities - among the highest taxed industries in the state - gain some tax relief.

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads