MAHTOMEDI — Members of the Kramer-Berg American Legion Post 507 are worried about their future.
Their revenue stream is shrinking as other charitable gambling groups displace them in the pull-tab booth.
The new owner of the Dugout is going with Mahtomedi's youth hockey association for its pull tabs, as did Quinny's.
“It was a double whammy,” said Gene Altstatt, Legion adjutant and a retired major in the Army Reserves. He figures the Post is down 60 to 70% with the loss of those bars.
“We used to have about $200,000 to give away,” according to Altstatt. “We lost half of that when Jethro's sold to new owners, and I think hockey is knocking on Chris Cosgrove's door, too.”
Cosgrove owns the old Flame Bar, which was owned by Ken Lohr, Legion Post commander.
Legion members sent Cosgrove a letter last month welcoming him to Mahtomedi and reminding him of their pull-tab business.
“For many years, our small community has benefited in large and small ways from the pull-tab operations from your establishment,” the letter read. “Our Kramer-Berg Legion Post 507 has intimate knowledge and personal connections to the needs we have supported. Please consider how the loss of a significant income source would affect any business. We think you'd agree that future days would be changed to the negative.”
The Legion members asked Cosgrove to use them as the establishment's pull-tab provider. “Your patrons will be a lot of our community and we feel the benefit of charitable gambling proceeds can be most appropriately placed by the Mahtomedi Legion,” they wrote.
Attempts to reach Cosgrove for comment were unsuccessful. Word on the street is that his new Mahtomedi restaurant will be called Wildwood Tavern and open sometime this month. Cosgrove also owns and operates Cozzie's Tavern & Grill in Stillwater. The Bayport American Legion has Cozzie's pull-tab business, along with 13 other lucrative gambling locations.
Altstatt worries that hockey groups are knocking on Cosgrove's door, too. “Hockey seems to be taking over the world of pull tabs in the region,” he said. “I don't know the players but they're doing a hell of a job taking everyone's pull-tab business.”
The Kramer-Berg Post currently has only two pull-tab restaurant/bars: Roma's and Frigaards.
Altstatt, Lohr and Charles Johnson, gambling operations manager, addressed the City Council in June urging them to review the ordinance regulating charitable gambling.
“We'd like the ordinance strengthened to keep the dollars in the community,” Altstatt said. “The current ordinance says 40% of proceeds is required to stay in the trade area. We want that beefed up to keep 90% in the community.”
In presenting their case, Altstatt reminded council members that the Legion has given “time, effort and energy” to the city over the years. “We've contributed more than $2 million over the decades,” he said. “Looking back several years, we've cut back quite a bit. We're down to $50,000 to $60,000. There's been a lot of turnover of establishments. Every time it's a possible loss of pull tabs. It's getting more limited. To be successful, we have to keep doing what we're doing.”
Council members agreed to review the ordinance at a July 16, 5:30 p.m. workshop. Dick Brainerd said he “totally understands” the Legion's position and told the trio, “I'm glad you're here.” It's his understanding that the proprietor can pick or choose who gets the pull tabs, but Brainerd wasn't sure if that is state regulated or local.
Johnson said he hopes by making the ordinance more stringent, it could influence the owner to select organizations within the community.
“We're not asking for an exclusive,” Johnson added. “We're asking for protection for organizations in the area from encroachment from outside.”
Former Flame owner Lohr reminded the council he's had Legion pull tabs for about 30 years.
“The last question I asked this fella who bought the bar, 'are you going to use Legion pull tabs?' He said, 'yeah.' Then I start hearing rumors it will be the Bayport Legion. That aggravated me a bit,” Lohr stated. “But there's not much I can do about it. Bayport did support the Mahtomedi baseball team a couple years. We'd like the requirement for money to stay here go up.”
Councilman Steve Wolgamot was out of the country during the council meeting, but sent an email to Altstatt before he left urging Legion members to make their concerns known.
“You guys have always done a great job for the community and we cannot count on others to do so,” he told Altstatt, also cc'ing the mayor and city administrator.
“Charitable gambling can only be conducted with approval of the City Council and the level of commitment shown to local causes and needs is unquestionably a valid concern in voting to grant or deny specific requests and specific operators,” he said.
Wolgamot thanked the Legion for its great support over the years, “from football lights in our first years here, to the first substantial contributions to MAEF (Mahtomedi Area Educational Foundation), to scholarships for hundreds of our graduates, to the reconstruction of the veterans memorial area and much more. Kramer-Berg has been a great asset to our community and we are grateful.”
The Legion Post 507 was chartered in 1946. According to Johnson in his “Operation Impact” report, the Post has donated about $2.4 million to the community, youth, education and veterans programs. Last fiscal year, those contributions amounted to $62,400. Over 97% of all revenues raised are used to serve veterans and help operate programs that serve youth, adults and senior citizens located within School District #832.
Members don't have their own hall but meet in Mike's Barbershop the second Thursday of every month. Altstatt describes their meetings as “a bunch of old farts with their Legion hats on.” He is worried about the Legion's survival. “We're all dying out,” he said.
We feel we are more adequately informed on how to distribute money in our community. We've been supporting certain groups for lots of years. Outside groups like Bayport won't have that same knowledge.