- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - When Cal Stueve’s first-grade teacher asked him if he could count, he started at “two” and ended with “ace.”

Stueve hasn’t given up his love for playing cards in the five decades since. He and his friends get together at least three times a week for whist, a four-player game popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. But Minnesota gambling laws have stalled his vision for a bigger tournament.

Whist, which began in England, is played with two teams of two and rewards memory. It’s similar to bridge, which developed out of whist. Games can last anywhere from five to 45 minutes, Stueve said.

“I think to me it’s one of the toughest games to play,” the 57-year-old Alexandria man said. “It seems like no two hands are the same.”

Along with other games such as pinochle, gin and Texas Hold ‘em, Minnesota residents risk committing a crime if their whist prize pool exceeds $200. Stueve is at the heart of a push to carve out an exemption for whist tournaments in Minnesota’s gambling law. He wants to host an annual contest in Alexandria, setting aside some of the thousands of dollars in prizes for charity.

He has traveled to Iowa for whist tournaments because that state’s limit on prize pools is larger. He hopes his annual tournament would draw teams from other states, too, and bring more money into Minnesota.

“You’re talking about a significant amount of folks that are going to be pulled in,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, an Alexandria Republican carrying the whist bill in the Senate.

It’s not the first time a lawmaker has introduced a bill on behalf of a relatively small group of constituents. Rep. Mary Franson, who started the push on Stueve’s behalf, has another one herself, aimed at a family who lives in her district.

But it’s important for Stueve, who says whist is ubiquitous in the tiny town of Rose City where he grew up. He first approached Franson, another Republican from Alexandria, about getting an exemption for whist tournaments about a year and a half ago.

The bill would raise the purse limit for any whist tournament to $8,000. Stueve said he would like to give a chunk of that to a different group every year, starting with a nearby hospice facility.

Franson recognizes changes to gambling laws can be controversial. The whist bill didn’t gain traction last year and doesn’t yet have a hearing scheduled this session.

But Stueve will likely keep playing even if the bill stalls in the Legislature. He often plays in two weekly tournaments in Alexandria. And reached by phone Friday, the retired carpenter stepped away from a game to talk.


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