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A dicey situation

A 20-year-old tradition at Whitey's has been called into question after Minnesota gambling enforcement officials Monday night confiscated four antique slot machines the historic restaurant and bar uses for its annual "Good Old Days" promotion.

A 20-year-old tradition at Whitey's has been called into question after Minnesota gambling enforcement officials Monday night confiscated four antique slot machines the historic restaurant and bar uses for its annual "Good Old Days" promotion.

Cups and dice used for the bar's Monday night drink special were also taken during a compliance review, which was conducted during a multi-agency sweep of East Grand Forks bars.

The incident has sparked a gimmick versus gambling debate between Greg Stennes, Whitey's owner and general manager, and Minnesota gaming authorities.

Scott Stewart, a senior special agent with the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said he could not comment on the incident at Whitey's because it is under investigation.

However, he said officials from the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, the Department of Revenue and the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division toured East Grand Forks' licensed liquor establishments Monday night to conduct compliance reviews.

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Stewart said the goal of the sweep was to examine charitable gaming operations and records, as well as look for untaxed cigarette sales, illegal gambling and compliance with Minnesota liquor laws.

The event has left Stennes a little puzzled. He said the slot machines and dice that were taken have a gimmicky appeal for patrons, and no betting is involved.

"The key to this thing is that there is no wager being made," he noted.

The slot machines are used during the annual Good Old Days promotion, which is the restaurant's biggest marketing event of the year. "This is a promotion we've been doing for 20 years or more," Stennes said.

He added that the antique slot machines are novelty items from the 1920s and 1940s that do not dispense money. The Good Old Days promotion, which was slated to begin Thursday, is a tribute to the history of Whitey's a history that did involve gambling activity in the 1930s and 1940s.

During the promotion, everyone who walks into the restaurant gets a chance to take a pull on one of the slot machines. Depending on the outcome, patrons have the opportunity to order off menus from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s and also pay the price listed on those menus.

In addition to the Good Old Days promotion, Whitey's bar-goers have been able to roll dice against the bartenders Monday nights for about the past three years. If the bartender rolls a higher number, the customer pays full price for a drink or round. If the bartender rolls lower, the drinks are on the house.

Stennes described the practice as a "pricing strategy" because he said customers have nothing to lose. It's similar in nature to pull tab specials at other local bars, such as Bonzer's Sandwich Pub.

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What's next?

After the compliance review, which occurred at about 9 p.m., Whitey's patrons were offered two-for-one drinks this week as an alternative to the usual Monday night special. Stennes spent Tuesday working to get the slot machines back.

Initially, he was hoping to get the them back in time to start the Good Old Days promotion Thursday, but plans changed when he discovered they were transported to St. Paul on Wednesday.

Now, he's aiming to clear everything up and start the promotion next week. It is still scheduled to run through the month of February, he said.

Stennes has been working with East Grand Forks officials to resolve the issue, but City Administrator Bob Brooks said there isn't much that can be done at the local level because it is a state issue. "We'll aid him in finding someone he can talk to to get this thing resolved," he said. "It's an unusual situation."

Brooks added that he was not aware of the dice and slot machines being an issue in the past.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of his promotions, Stennes felt confident the investigation would end favorably for Whitey's.

"I think we have a good leg to stand on," he said.

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Edison reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or jedison@gfherald.com .

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