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Pull Tab Ticket Addiction - Small Games of Chance at the Local Club

Winners & Losers

I found him distracting – the gorilla of a man sitting a few seats around the corner from me at our local club. He had brood shoulders and a dirty tan. His face seemed friendly yet hidden under the shadow of his ball cap.

“Give me ten, Lisa,” he told the barmaid. She complied, counting out the pull tab tickets with lightening speed. He nodded toward his buddy and she tossed half on the bar in front of the gorilla's wingman. Together, in less than a minute, they had pulled the tabs.

“Nahhh", groaned the gorilla. “Give me twenty”, said his buddy and so it went all night.

I wondered if it was possible that pull tickets were as addictive as other forms of gambling? I wondered if they caused the havoc on finances and families like those experienced by pathological gamblers.

According to the National Institute of Health, "Pathological gambling often involves repetitive behaviors. People with this problem have a hard time resisting or controlling the impulse to gamble."

The night wears on. I see an older couple pulling tabs and depositing their losers in a basket. Curious to see if they winning, I ask, "How are you doing?" Surprisingly, she holds up a cherished ticket. "Three fifties on one ticket," she says excited. "I've never seen that." Her husband next to her beams. Their basket is overflowing with non-winners. I don't ask, but am curious as to what they spent to get to their prize ticket.

What is a Pull Tab?

According to an NAFTM (National Association of Fundraising Ticket Manufacturers) 2011 Annual report, “Officially, a “pull tab” is a folded or banded ticket, or a card with perforated tabs on one side, usually made of paper products, the face of which is covered or hidden to conceal numbers, symbols or letters. Some of the configurations of numbers, symbols or letters have been designated in advance as prize winners.” Those playing this game of chance open the tabs and compare the numbers, symbols or letters in hopes of winning a prize.

The report goes on to say, “… that pull tabs emerged in the 1970s as a popular fundraising tool for charities….” Very popular, pull tabs are huge at fraternal and services clubs and veterans’ organizations.

It sounds so nice - charitable gambling.

A young woman approaches the bar numerous times. One time she orders three drinks and leaves. Returning, she summons Lisa for pull tickets. Lisa reaches into a Lucite container and fumbles a bit before counting out the tickets. The woman pays and leaves and heads to a table in the darker part of the bar where two buddies are waiting.

The Lucite container has been busy tonight - I watch Lisa stop and fill it with a fresh box of pull tabs.


What are the Odds?

I decide to see if I can purchase some pull tabs online. I find the following:

3 Window - $1.00 Criss Cross
2,940 Cards at $1.00 each

Takes In: $2,940.00
Pays Out: $2,492.00

84.76% Payout
15.24% Profit

Win Ratio:

1 in 9.73

I stink at probability. It's what took my College Algebra grade and lowered it to a B, but I wonder if playing this game on a daily basis really pays.

Still, if I run a charitable organization and I purchase this box of 2940 pull tabs, I can make a profit of $448 on the box. Not bad.

According to the site, the winnings from my purchase will be handed out as such:

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"Intermittent rewards are as addictive as crack; human nature makes them impossible to resist." (

Intermittent Reward Strategy

All of this brings me back to a compelling article I read on a blog called, The The author speaks about the raw truth when he says, " Intermittent reward strategy is just some crazy ass sh*t. It’s probably the second most powerful motivator out there next to avoidance of death. And out of the three elements of compliance, it’s also the most manipulative."

The author goes on to define intermittent reward strategy as, "unpredictable random rewards in response to repeated behavior.” He says that a perfect example is gambling and in particular, slot machines. "With a slot machine, you do the same behavior over and over again, ... but you never know when you’ll actually be rewarded for this behavior. This creates an incentive to keep repeating the behavior, because you are chasing the reward, and you become convinced that if you just do it one more time, that may be the time you get the reward."

Does any of this sound familiar when it comes to pull tickets? It's just the mechanism that is different. Our author leaves us with one final, sobering thought; "Intermittent rewards are as addictive as crack; human nature makes them impossible to resist."

The Night Wears On...

The gorilla sits smuggly across the bar. He does not hoot or holler, but I hear him tell his buddy that it's a 100.

Lisa appears and gathers and tosses out the loser tickets, then scoops up the 100 ticket and heads to the cash register. She brings the winnings back to our players. The gorilla nods toward his wingman, "Give him $40". Lisa doles the money out and stands for a brief moment waiting. "Give me $20 more", says the Gorilla. And so it begins again.


Medline Plus - Pathological Gambling. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2014, from .

NAFTM 2011 Annual Report. (n.d.). Retrieved June 16, 2013, from

The Compliance Recipe, Part 3: Intermittent Rewards. (n.d.). The Rawness - human nature and sexual politics. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from

Addendum: Small Games of Chance Act (PA)

The Pennsylvania Local Option Small Games of Chance Act was passed in 1988 and has been amended several times since its enactment. The act authorizes certain organizations, known as eligible organizations, to conduct limited types of gambling. The types of gambling authorized by the act are as follows:

A pull-tab game must comply with the following:

1. At least 65 percent of the maximum potential gross receipts from the sale of pull-tabs must be payable as prizes.

2. A prize on an individual pull-tab may not exceed $1,000.

3. An individual pull-tab deal may not contain more than 4,000 individual pull-tabs.

4. The flare advertising prizes available from the pull-tab deal must be made by the manufacturer and may only be altered by the eligible organization to indicate that merchandise of equivalent value will substitute for a cash prize.

5. Only one flare may be displayed for each deal and must be placed on the face or on the top of the dispenser used to dispense pull-tabs.

6. The flare must display the winning numbers or symbols for all prizes in the amount of $5 or more, the manufacturer’s name or logo and the cost per play.

7. The pull-tab game must be manufactured by a registered manufacturer, approved by the department for use in the commonwealth, and purchased from a licensed distributor.



Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on June 18, 2013:

Many thanks for the read and share, Sue!!

Susan Bailey from South Yorkshire, UK on June 17, 2013:

Very interesting indeed! Voted up and shared.

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