Featured in this article:
  • Dakota set up a casino in his garage
  • Tribal casinos legal in many states
  • Native American casino industry worth $34.6bn a year

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Fred Dakota started a casino in his garage

Fred Dakota, one of most influential figures in American gambling history, has died at the age of 83.

Dakota was a former leader of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and died at his home in Baraga, Michigan. He leaves behind a legacy that has helped shape the US gambling landscape.

It was back in the mid-1980s that Dakota began running a casino from his garage. It was a single blackjack table, opened in Baraga County, where players could get a shot of whiskey for less than a dollar. Not exactly luxury, but a little slice of utopia for his customers.

“We gave the government vast tracts of land in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota when we signed that treaty in 1854,” Dakota told The New York Times in 1984.

“And what did we get in return? We got the government to agree not to kill us. Well, now it’s time we got something more. Gambling is going to make a lot of Indians rich.”

Significance Of Fred Dakota

Dakota’s garage casino was one of its first and led to the construction of a bigger casino, although the police were always watching his tracks. A few years later, the US Supreme Court used a Californian case to ease restrictions on gambling activity on tribal land, which proved a turning point for the US gambling industry.

Within months states were able to negotiate gambling licenses with Native American tribes and a new expansion of the industry was born. Dakota himself had fought the federal court’s decisions to shut down his casinos but eventually won out – at least, the industry did.

Today, there are more than 450 gambling operations being run in the US by Native American tribes. Recent years have seen the passing of state legislation for operators to run more casinos on government and private land, as the country relaxes its gambling laws.

Still, revenues from Native American casinos and sportsbooks remain some of the highest in the country. Indeed, before the COVID-19 pandemic gross gambling yields from tribal casinos hit $34.6bn a year, with many states breaking their previous records.

And, in a small way, they have Fred Dakota to thank for helping push the case for Native American casinos to operate on tribal land four decades ago.

“He always had to work for what he had, and being in Indian gaming was no different,” said Dakota’s nephew, Chris Swartz. “I’m going to miss his visits, his leadership style, he would come and visit me at the tribal president office often, and just share some thoughts and ideas with me. It was an honor to hear Uncle Fred tell me some of his stories.”

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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