My Turn: We ought to legalize gambling

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2003

As a person that has made their living, (pulltab dealer, single parent, two children) in the charitable gaming industry for the past five years, I have a little different take on Gov. Murkowski's theory about pulltabs.

Pulltab gaming is basically paper slots. Ideally, it should be fast-paced, with a lot of give and take. In order for this to work it has to payout at a high percentage. Our organization pays out at about an 80 percent rate (comparable to Vegas odds). Pulltabs are all about turnover. The more you sell the more you make.

Lowering the payout to 68 percent isn't going to make the state more money, it would devastate the whole process. At 68 percent you can't keep a player in the game. They lose their money too fast. The player has to be hitting once in a while or (contrary to what Mr. Murkowski thinks) people will figure out the odds suck and stop playing altogether.

At 68 percent the industry wouldn't just take a 20 percent or 30 percent drop in business, it would be more like 70 percent to 80 percent.

People play pulltabs for all kinds of reasons. The excitement of risking your hard-earned money and beating the odds, and getting that boost that only winning money can give you. There's also a social aspect, much like a bar or coffee shop, that players know exists. Some players just find it a fun way to donate to their favorite charity. Pulltabs are just another form of entertainment, and in a state hungry for entertainment, it's at least an option where the proceeds go to charity.

I also find it ironic that Mr. Murkowski wants to use this new influx of pulltab funds to pay for the increase in state employee insurance costs. Most of my fellow pulltab dealers make between $8 and $10 per hour, with no insurance or retirement benefits provided. I'm one of the lucky ones; my organization recognizes and acknowledges the fund-raising abilities of a good pulltab dealer and pays accordingly. Unfortunately there's just not enough money left over for employee health insurance. That's why you see so many Native pulltab dealers. If I weren't part Native, I couldn't afford to work in this profession. In this theory, it's the poor paying for the middle class.

If you want to make some serious gaming money and have the best state employee insurance, and the best schools, and a great state economy then legalize gambling. Alaska is the only West Coast state without casinos or a lottery. We all need to get past the hypocrisy of gambling. It seems to me Washington, D.C., doesn't want us to exploit our resources so if we're going to live in a tourist-retirement resort, gambling seems the obvious alternative. If the state started looking down these avenues they might start seeing some permanent solutions instead of a temporary Band-Aid that may or may not work.

Donnie Wells is a Juneau pulltab dealer.

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