An Anchorage retiree won more than $3.5 million in a lottery game this week, its largest prize ever distributed.
Lotto Alaska announced on Facebook Tuesday that George Tagarook had won not only the charitable game’s weekly prize – 20% of its total ticket sales for the week – but also the rolling jackpot in its Chase the Ace game. By choosing a card on a 54-card board, Tagarook claimed a total of $3,561,733 in the ongoing game, operated by Emerald Isle Pull Tabs of Fairbanks.
In a brief interview posted by Lotto Alaska on Facebook, Tagarook told longtime Alaska radio personality Bob Lester that he’d only been playing lotteries for a few months before he bought 200 Lotto Alaska tickets on Saturday for $100. The ticket numbers he bought included the winning ticket: NL-2726655.
Tagarook checked the winning numbers and wrote them down – but he mixed up the last four digits, and almost didn’t claim the weekly winnings.
“The next day when I woke up it’s like I had to check the numbers again. And there, 6655; the last four numbers on the ticket was 6655,” he said. “I was like…” He paused, beaming at the camera.
When he called his niece, she said he had to call Lotto Alaska and report the winning ticket.
Lotto Alaska staff member Stosh Solski said Tagarook was on track to win at least $126,000 in the weekly prize before his added winnings from finding the ace, which rises in value by 30% of ticket sales each week that it’s not revealed. The pot Tagarook won had been accumulating since April.
“That was April 24 of last year, because on April 17 we gave away $908,000,” Solski said.
Lotto Alaska tickets were initially only available at about a dozen pull-tab shops across the state. But state officials did its business “a huge favor” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Solski said, by temporarily approving the sale of tickets online – a move that has since been made permanent.
The lottery currently benefits almost 50 charities, Solski said, including the North Pole Lions Foundation, the Fairbanks Arts Association and the Alaska Outdoor Council.
Charitable gaming across the state has been booming in recent years, with the Alaska Charitable Gaming Alliance estimating its members raise about $35 million for charities annually – two-thirds of that total in Anchorage. The state Department of Revenue reports Alaska taxes and fees paid in the sector jumped from about $2.5 million to $3 million from the 2021 to 2022 fiscal years, a roughly 20% increase.
Solski said Lotto Alaska, which has been running since 2017, has seen pots spend more time unclaimed than the one Tagarook won. The April pot’s high value was due to slowly spreading word of mouth about the game.
“So the longer we keep going, the more people we reach and the quicker the jackpots build up,” he said.
Tagarook told Lester the jackpot-winning card number he chose on the Chase the Ace board, 49, was a product of both the 49th state and a football fan closer to home.
“My oldest son Manning, he’s a (San Francisco) 49ers fan,” Tagarook said.
Asked about his plans for the money, Tagarook said he initially wants to pay down some debts.
“Do you just want to go get a job so you can quit it immediately?” Lester asked.
“No,” Tagarook replied, laughing.