Fred Dakota then displayed the street fighter instincts that eventually left an impact on gaming nationwide. “I said I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and I don’t want you there bothering my customers. We have a treaty with the U.S. government that allows us to do this.” The tribe went ahead with bingo night. “The only one who showed up was the bingo commissioner, and he never bothered anybody,” Dakota says.
The tribe started offering bingo twice a week and expanded from there. Soon, the tribe finished the housing project and paid off $300,000 in debt; they put money into health and education. “Everything got taken care of through the bingo game, and we were starting to accumulate a little bit of savings,” Dakota says.
A turning point for Dakota came during the election of tribal officers for the 1982 annual term. “You have to have seven votes to win,” Dakota says. “But I only had five.” The administrator job is a paid position; it had been Dakota’s livelihood for 15 years, and suddenly he was out of work.
He did odd jobs, collected unemployment benefits, looked for something steady. But it was during the early 1980’s recession that hit Michigan hard. Unemployment statewide was nearly 17 percent, and up here, on the rocky shores of Lake Superior, with U.P. backcountry spreading for miles around, tribal unemployment was 40 percent.
The 12 months of unemployment checks went by fast, and as Dakota was nearing the end of his benefits, he knew he had to think of something. But what?
Then Dakota recalled the idea that Helene Walsh had, and the casino rules the council had written. He thought about his brother-in-law’s two-car garage in Zeba, a tiny reservation village carved out of U.P. forest a few miles north of L’Anse.
“I went to the tribal council, and I said I’d like to get one of those gambling licenses that we have in our code.” If approved, it would be the first license for a full-scale Indian casino in the United States. “They all looked at each other and said, yeah, you can get one of those licenses. And they all kind of laughed,” Dakota says.
But Dakota had those five kids to feed, so he didn’t let the joking alter his path. “I went to the banker and said, ‘I want to tell you about something. I have a gambling license, I have this garage. I want to put in his and her bathrooms, some coolers, a bar, craps tables.’ ” The banker approved a $10,000 loan.