Last Update: Jun 27, 2010
The following information on pull-tabs is based on pull-tabs purchased and information gathered at a pull-tab store near the airport in Anchorage, Alaska.
A pull-tab could loosely be compared to a scratch-off lottery ticket, in that both usually cost $1, are instantly resolved by the player, and a portion of the purchase price goes towards state-run projects or charities. I was told that 30% of net profits (gross receipts less cashout from winning pull-tabs and taxes) is supposed to go towards Alaska charities.
There are two primary differences between lottery tickets and pull-tabs. First, on a lottery ticket you scratch the card to see what you won, whereas on a pull-tab you pull up flaps on the card. Second, pull-tabs are printed in batches of about 3,000 to 10,000, with a specified number of each possible prize per batch.
In Alaska, pull-tab stores can be found in some small strip malls. The store will have lots of bins from which to choose. A bin does not have to run empty before a new batch of pull-tabs is added to it. So the only information you are likely to get about the number of winners from a batch left in a bin would be based on your own purchases.
The way it works is the customer will tell the agent which kind he wishes to buy and how many. There is a counter and stools for the convenience of players. At the location by the Anchorage airport (on Spenard Rd. and Wisconsin St.) a bulletin board showed small posters of the various games, including the number of pull-tabs in each batch.
Most pull-tabs show the possible prizes, and the number of each prize per batch. Armed with that information, and the number per batch from the posters, it was very easy to calculate the return of each kind of game. The rest of this page shows the return for ten different games. There were some pull-tabs (namely Players Choice and Alaska State Wide) that I tried that did not indicate the possible prizes, nor the number printed per batch and they are omitted from this page.
Big Ass Game
The cost of Happy Hog tickets is 25¢ each. The return column is the product of the win, probability, and 4, to show the expected return is 71.43% of money bet.
Kings & Silvers
Loon a Tick
Moose on the Loose
The cost of Slottery tickets is 50¢ each. The return column is the product of the win, probability, and 2, to show the expected return is 72.09% of money bet.
The good news about Alaska pull-tabs is that most of them are a significantly better bet than the lottery tickets in the lower 48 states. The bad news is they are still a lousy bet compared to most forms of casino gambling. The following table shows the return of each game tested, in alphabetical order.
If you must play, my advice is to seek out the pull-tabs with the highest return. Of the ten I tested the best is Zig Zag at 77.89%. Note how most of them pay between 72% and 78%. The exceptions are Cash Dash and War Chest, which are significantly less at 58.13% each. Why these two games return significantly less, I have no idea. I note another thing they have in common, which the other cards don't: they were made by Specialty Mfg.
There is also an effect of non-replacement with pull-tabs. If you buy some pull-tabs of the same kind, and your results are less than expectations, then it would be likely that the pull-tabs in the rest of the bin should exceed expectations. To very marginally increase your expected return, buy tickets of a given kind one at a time until your actual results exceed expectations, and then stop. However, you could end up buying hundreds, or thousands of tickets, employing this strategy. More practical advice would be to buy as few as you need to have some fun, and then leave.
I questioned someone named Barbara by phone with the Alaska Department of Revenue who said on average pull-tabs return 78%, but there is no minimum or maximum required, in favor of letting the free market determine the odds.
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