Dakota quickly set to work in his brother-in-law’s garage. He insulated and nailed chipboard to the walls and ceiling. “I left it natural,” he says. The floor remained just a plain cement garage floor. He and his brother-in-law built the bar. Dakota couldn’t afford real blackjack tables, so he bought some green felt and built two tables. He didn’t have room for a full-scale 16-foot craps table, so he bought a little one, about half-size, a toylike thing with tiny legs that Dakota set on another table for elevation. He bought three used poker machines from a guy in Marquette.
“I had lights hanging over the blackjack tables and other lights behind the bar, you know, casino stuff,” Dakota says. He went to the drugstore in L’Anse and bought cards and plastic poker chips—red, white and blue.
On the last day of 1983, New Year’s Eve, Dakota was ready to open the doors of The Pines, a casino and bar. Thinking back to the tribe’s success in marketing bingo with flyers, he had taken the same approach with his casino. He pinned flyers on bulletin boards, tucked them under car windshield wipers in grocery store parking lots. But as the opening moment neared, he recalls, “I was afraid, scared to death,” thinking about getting raided by the police. “I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen, but when you have five children to feed, you get innovative.”
Leading up to opening night, Dakota and his wife, Sybil, had been practicing how to deal blackjack. “We had a book that told how to do it,” he says. But come opening night, his wife was too nervous about dealing, so she tended bar, and Dakota did all the dealing at one table. And the people came to play. Cars parked in the driveway, on the shoulder of the road and in the trailer park next door.
“We must have had about 40 people in that two-car garage, and no law enforcement came,” Dakota says. “I thought, Well this is all right.”
The Pines casino opened every night from then on, just Dakota and his wife running the place. For a couple of weeks that was okay, but word spread fast, and soon people were standing around, waiting too long for seats at the table. Dakota built more blackjack tables and hired more dealers, eventually squeezing six tables into the garage.
“I started making decent deposits at the bank,” he says. “The bank was happy. I was happy. And there was no governmentinterference whatsoever.”
Brad Dakota, Fred’s son who was in college then, remembers the first time his dad made $1,000 in a night at the casino. “He was standing in the kitchen, and he counted the money, and then he just threw it all up in the air.”