Throughout the Kenai Peninsula, and the state of Alaska, people can often be found saddled up to bars with stacks of cardboard tickets, pulling off strips and trying to get lucky.
It's a form of entertainment, charity and good old-fashioned fun: pull-tabs.
"It's like an Alaskan slot machine," said Mike Henry, general manager of the .406 Sportsmans Lodge in Kenai that sells pull-tabs on behalf of the Kenai Elks Club.
The small card has three perforated tabs with question marks that are ripped off to reveal rows of pictures. And, like a slot machine, if the pictures match up, or correlate to that game's theme, the amount of money won is shown in the row.
While some people from the Lower 48 may be unfamiliar with the "cardboard crack" that is pull-tabs, also known as "rippies," in Alaska the game is quite popular, and lucrative for non-profit organizations.
Bell. Orange. Cherries.
According to the Alaska Department of Revenue's latest gaming report from 2007, the pull-tab game net proceeds were some $25 million that year after taxes, prizes and expenses were paid out. Gambling is illegal in Alaska in the form of cards, dice, roulette wheels, coin-operated instruments or machines. Only non-profits and municipalities can hold permits for legal gaming, like raffles, bingo and pull-tabs, and in the Kenai Peninsula Borough the games are operated and sold by a vendor, like a bar, or other establishment.
Henry said that the Kenai Elks club makes some $60,000 annually from pull-tab proceeds, which all goes to student scholarships.
"It's a great form of activity for people and also it helps in the community," he said.
Henry said that the .406 bar goes through one pull-tab game in 15 days to a month, but other bars, like The Bow, can go through a game in one week.
Diamond. Diamond. Ruby.
During an American Legion convention in Kenai last month, the lodge went through a game in two days flat, a smoking record.
"They're known gamers," Henry said.
Over at The Bow in Kenai, Ron Strand, of Sterling, said he gave up on pull-tabs long ago.
"It's a losing proposition," he said. "You get just enough to keep going, keep going, keep going. You're trying to win millions but you don't win millions, you pay millions."
But while Strand might be retired from rippies, he does have at least one victorious story.
"One time in Kodiak I went in with $5 dollars and won $600," he said.
And that chance seems to be the appeal of the game.
Dice. Spade. Heart.
"There's an opportunity to win and an opportunity to lose," Henry said.
In one of the games Henry sells at the .406 called "Crazy Eights," there is a 22-percent win factor for the 2,352 tickets, with an 83-percent payout and seven $100 winners.
According to the Alaska Department of Revenue tax division, pull-tab games have prize structures provided by their manufacturers. For example in a game with 4,000 tickets at a dollar apiece that's $4,000 gross. At a 75 percent payout that means $3,000 in prizes and $1,000 in ideal net, with $700 going to the charitable permitee, $30 for the 3 percent pull tab tax, and the rest to related expenses. A vendor can receive no more than 30 percent profit from the games. Prizes on a single pull-tab ticket cannot exceed $500.
"People like to open them and see the money signs staring back at them," said Tammy Dukowitz, of Kenai's Lucky Puck Pull Tabs and Bingo, which benefits the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association.
She went on to describe a few of the other pull-tab personalities she sees in the establishment.
"A lot of people like to come out and play because it's a social thing. Drink coffee, chit chat," she said. "Some people pray to God they win, some people don't care. Some people don't know when to stop."
Horseshoe. Horseshoe. $2.
And some other others like to keep their pull-tab gaming a secret.
"There's a lot of closet pull-tab players," Henry said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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