A continued strong economy, including a vibrant tourism season in northern Minnesota, and the increasing popularity of electronic pull-tabs allowed the Backus American Legion Charitable Gaming Partnership to donate a record $79,372 to charitable causes in 2018, a 49 percent increase over the previous year.

The chief local beneficiaries were public safety, education, a variety of youth activities, area food shelves and other nonprofit organizations, veterans and active duty military personnel and programs benefiting the poor and disabled.

The largest single recipient of charitable gambling funds remained the state of Minnesota, which collected $63,078 in taxes in calendar year 2018. Statewide, the state collected $81 million in taxes from charitable gambling in the fiscal year ending last July 1, compared to $72 million the previous year.

The state's 1,144 licensed gambling charities were able to donate $72.5 million to charitable causes in the last fiscal year, an increase of $6.5 million or 10 percent from fiscal 2017, according to the industry's trade organization, Allied Charities of Minnesota.

The Backus Legion Gaming Partnership is composed of the post and its longtime post-sponsored affiliate, Willard's Saloon & Eatery in downtown Backus. The partnership, in one of the largest projects in the history of the program, donated $30,000 last year to the Backus Fire and Emergency Medical units for new Jaws of Life, which enables the department to extricate accident victims from vehicles more efficiently and safely.

Other major donations included $15,607 to Hackensack and Pine River area food shelves and other community organizations, including area festival sponsors whose activities benefit the local tourism economy; $22,305 to activities benefiting youth, including ten $1,000 scholarships to Pine-River-Backus graduates, expenses for local youths exhibiting at the State Fair and a number of other educational and recreational programs; $1,600 additional to Pine-River Backus school programs; $4,407 to programs benefiting the poor and disabled; and $1,956 for veterans and active duty military, including postage for holiday gifts for those serving overseas.

Gambling Manager Doug Tuchtenhagen said he's pleased with the success of electronic pull-tabs, established at Willard's in 2017 and the Legion last year. Linked bingo is also available on the devices, which had a slow start when legalized in 2012 but increased in popularity when improved technology made the devices more consumer friendly and fun to play. Tuchtenhagen oversaw the implementation of the gaming tablets in Backus, attending industry seminars and working with distributors, the post's gaming committee and the two local sites to help insure their success.

Pull-tabs comprised 89 percent of Legion sales, with paper tabs accounting for 62 percent and electronic (E-Tabs) 38 percent of pull-tab sales. Others forms of gambling - meat raffles, linked electronic bingo and sports tip boards - accounted for 11 percent of sales.

The figures were similar to those statewide, with pull-tabs making up 93 percent of sales. Industry sales for the largest charitable gaming program in the United States, increased for the eighth straight year, totaling $2 billion in fiscal 2018, a 15.6 percent increase. E-tab sales increased 80 percent.

Of the total revenue, $1.6 billion, or 84 percent of revenue, was returned in prizes. Another $214 million went to expenses, leaving $72.5 million for donations, and some additional funding the state allows veterans and fraternal organizations to maintain their buildings, which in many locations also serve as community centers, according to figures published by Allied Charities and the state Gambling Control Board.

"We and our partners at Willard's Saloon & Eatery again thank the public for their support of our program, which benefits our communities in many ways,'' said Legion Commander Eugene Gagnon.

Al Lund, executive director of Allied Charities, said charitable gambling, one of the highest taxed businesses in the state, is in bad need of tax relief from the Legislature. Sixty percent of the state's gaming sponsors pay a minimum of 30 percent of their income after expenses in state taxes. Forty-three percent pay at least 40 percent. The Legislature has also mandated that the industry pay $348 million from increased revenues generated from electronic pull-tabs to fund about one-third of the new Vikings stadium.

Lund complained that some online sports gaming enterprises, such as football fantasy operations, if they do pay state taxes, pay only the 9.8 percent corporate rate and are of little benefit to Minnesota socially. He would reduce taxes either through credits for donations or reduced rates, exemption from the state sales tax for paper games and electronic revenue and reduced costs for expensive private audits mandated by the state in addition to the state board's annual compliance reviews.