Pandemic Ignites Facebook Proxy Pull-Tab Gambling Craze in Alaska

Posted on: May 14, 2021, 06:50h. 

Last updated on: May 14, 2021, 10:16h.

The State of Alaska has written cease-and-desist letters to organizers of dozens of Facebook groups that promote “proxy betting” on pull tabs.

pull tabs
Secret Facebook groups are allowing Alaskans to gamble illegally by live-streaming pull-tab reveals. (Image:

Proxy betting is big in Asia. Its popularity in America’s frozen northwestern extremity appears to be a more recent phenomenon and one which has been driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the casinos of the Philippines, for example, proxy betting involves a customer, often based in China, providing betting instructions remotely to an agent (proxy) based on the casino floor or in a VIP lounge who physically places the wager.

In Alaska, where, like China, opportunities to gamble are scarce, it appears to involve hosts of Facebook groups collecting players’ money through payment apps and then opening pull tabs on their behalf. The process is streamed via Facebook Live.

Thousands Wagered at a Time

Anna Bill, a tribal police officer in the city of Mountain Village who has investigated the phenomenon, told local radio station KYUK that she found dozens of Facebook groups, each with hundreds of members. Some members would bet thousands of dollars at a time, she said.

None of this existed before the pandemic, she added.

KYUK spoke to a Bethel-based moderator of one of the Facebook groups who preferred to remain anonymous. His group has several thousand members.

“What happened was COVID hit and they shut down the bingo hall,” he said.

For those of us that don’t drink or anything else, that was our social life, you know? In Bethel, there’s not much to do,” he continued. “It’s laughter, it’s fun, it’s connecting with people you haven’t talked to in a long time.”

Authorities beg to differ. The letters dated March 5 and signed by Katrina Mitchell, gaming manager for the Alaska Department of Revenue remind the groups that offering gambling is illegal in Alaska.

The state has no casinos and no lottery, just one electronic bingo hall, operated by the Metlakatla Indian Community, several charitable bingo establishments, and a smattering of pull-tab booths.

Unenforceable Threats

Mitchell this week made the self-defeating admission to KYUK that her department had no powers to enforce gambling laws. Meanwhile, the police say they’re too busy with other crimes to bother about Facebook groups’ live streaming lottery scratch-offs.

But as the pandemic recedes, Alaska’s charitable bingo halls are beginning to reopen, which may put an end to the proxy-betting craze.

But if it persists, it’s likely Facebook will eventually get around to shutting the groups down, as users could potentially expose themselves to fraud and rigged games.

The social media giant has said in the past that its policy is to shut down pages that offer unlicensed gambling, such as raffles, once they are reported, investigated, and deemed to be illegal.