When patrons walk into Eagles #34, they experience the essence of Minnesota bar culture in full swing. Sounds of a local punk band preparing to play resonate throughout the bar as dart league members gather in booths, enjoying drinks and excitedly tearing away at pull-tabs. These communal rituals are the heart of Minnesota’s bar scene and the foundation of its unique pull-tab game culture.
Pull-tabs are little paper cards with tearaway strips that function like a scratch ticket or a slot machine. The goal is to reveal matching symbols upon removing the strips. The act of tearing these pull-tabs creates a distinct rhythm that sets the tone for the venue. At night’s end, spent cards pile up in red fry baskets, strips curling away from the card in disappointment. The game manager, often an older woman, sits among boxes of unclaimed tabs labeled with prize amounts, waiting for the next triumphant winner.
Minnesota’s pull-tab obsession and the staggering amount of revenue it generates sets it apart from other states. In 2019, the state earned $1.97 billion in gross receipts from pull-tabs, dwarfing the average revenue of other states by 533 percent. In 2022, this figure climbed to $4.02 billion, resulting in over $425 million in state revenue. The widespread love for pull-tabs has even helped pay off U.S. Bank Stadium’s construction costs 20 years earlier than expected.
The rise of pull-tabs in Minnesota can be traced back to the 1970s, when bingo halls and fraternities began to incorporate the game, even though it was initially seen as illegal. In 1981, pull-tabs were finally legalized within the state, and charity organizations quickly embraced the game’s potential as a lucrative fundraising method. In 2012, electronic pull-tabs were introduced, revolutionizing the game and making it more accessible for larger audiences.
The presence of pull-tabs in everyday bars gives Minnesota an edge over other states, as bars in Minnesota are uniquely public. This visibility has contributed to the game’s status as a cultural touchstone, ingraining itself into the state’s social fabric. Minnesota’s generosity and commitment to charitable causes, combined with the availability of pull-tabs, adds to its appeal.
Local historian Bill Lindeke has highlighted the significance of pull-tabs in Minnesota’s dives and neighborhood bars throughout his work, emphasizing these games as integral to the state’s drinking culture. Bars like Bull’s Horn Food and Drink continue this tradition, maintaining pull-tab booths in honor of the iconic game. Owner Doug Flicker, despite the meager profits, is dedicated to preserving the dive bar aesthetic through the inclusion of pull-tabs in his establishment. The strong presence of pull-tabs in Minnesota’s bars emphasizes the game’s unique status within the state’s heritage, contributing to the unparalleled significance of pull-tabs in Minnesota’s bar culture.