Play a Minneapolis bar raffle and fund USA Wrestling
Posted: Monday March 6, 2006 2:25PM; Updated: Monday March 6, 2006 2:25PM
I was in Minneapolis recently and stopped in at the Cardinal, a neighborhood tavern on the Southside. Got there about 7 p.m. and saw the raffle was well underway, Beth scurrying around selling numbers and Marion doing a steady business with pull-tabs.
Everybody was having a pretty good time, as usual. It's the only bar in the Twin Cities, as far as I know, where you can drink beer, win meat and send a wrestler to China. How could you not have a good time?
They do things different in Minnesota, in case you haven't heard. Jesse Ventura, ex-governor? That's the least of it. In Minnesota, the government has decided to offload a lot of what other states consider normal responsibilities -- let the voters fund their little causes. The wrinkle is that Minnesota allows just about any organization that can prove a non-profit status the chance to raise money through charitable gambling. The other wrinkle is that the state, which doesn't have to do anything as unpopular as tax citizens for the services that the non-profits must now provide, can now quietly tax the non-profits.
How Minnesota got away with this scam is beyond me, but everybody seems resigned to it. So it is that almost every neighborhood tavern offers (for a price, of course) Catholic schools, youth organizations and any other do-gooders hurting for funds the space and time to raise dough with pull-tabs -- a kind of instant lottery ticket -- and, in an awful lot of establishments, meat raffles.
Now as far as meat raffles go, which are only found here as far as I know, it's pretty much what it sounds like. Somebody sells 30 tickets for a buck apiece, spins a wheel and lets the winner select a package of meat -- could be pork chops, ground beef, bacon -- worth $22 from a cooler. The $8 difference (I did the math for you) is supposed to cover expenses and, with what's left over that, fund the charity. At the Cardinal, the charity happens to be Minnesota Wrestling, the state affiliate of USA Wrestling.
I called Dan Chandler, a three-time Olympian and the 2000 Olympic Greco head coach. Told him I'd just been at the Cardinal. He was delighted.
"Did you win any of my meat?" he asked me. Chandler had reason to be interested, since that raffle, plus pull-tab sales at four other bars, pay his salary as head of the state wrestling organization. Like I say, this is Minnesota. It seems that shortly after Minnesota legalized charitable gambling in the late 1980s, Chandler got the idea that this might be a way he could stay active as coach. He wrote a proposal saying he'd head up the outfit if he could run the charitable gambling side and get a salary out of it.
Nowadays, Chandler oversees an empire that does $3.5 million in sales at five sites, paying his salary and the other costs of running an association with 5,000 members, from youth to Olympic. It's a daunting effort since prizes, taxes and bar costs eat up about 95 percent of that amount. But without government support, it's the only way to drum up funds. Chandler admits to qualms about being in the betting business, but knows there's really no other way.
The little money he does eke out of pull-tabs and the meat raffle goes a long way, though. Minnesota, no behemoth when it comes to number of participants, is somehow a giant in international wrestling, having produced a medalist in five different Games from 1984 to 2000. Only Russia has done as well. Whether his budget of perhaps $200,000 makes the difference is anybody's guess. The University of Minnesota was ranked No. 1 recently, so that's a factor. But you'd be inclined to guess Chandler's efforts at the grass-roots level mattered, wouldn't you?
He's got a couple of prospects for the China Olympics: two post-grad kids who ought to make the grade. Chandler says it's more work running the gambling than it is the wrestling, saying he spends more time with regulatory paper work, running meat around and dealing with pull-tabs, than he ever will on the mat. But for all the hassle and all the reservations about being in the gambling business, he feels it's worth it.
For him, and wrestling in this very strange state, there's a lot at steak.