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Fred Dakota (1937–2021), Native American casino pioneer

by Linnea Crowther

Fred Dakota was a businessman who founded the first full-scale Native American casino in the United States.

The Pines

Dakota was out of work in the 1980s when he had the idea to open a small casino in his brother-in-law’s two-car garage. They lived in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where bingo was already legal. When Dakota applied with the tribal council for a gambling license, they agreed, and he began remodeling the garage into a casino. After building a bar and blackjack tables, and buying a craps table and poker machines, Dakota opened The Pines on New Years’ Eve 1983 to great success. It was the first Native American gambling operation to offer more than small-scale games like bingo, and it set the stage for the development of the Native American casino industry.

The Pines was shut down in 1985 after Dakota expanded to a larger location, with the challenge based on charges that Dakota was violating Michigan’s gambling laws. However, within a few years, Native American casinos were legalized via 1988’s Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and Dakota later worked in larger casinos.

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Dakota on opening night at The Pines

“We must have had about 40 people in that two-car garage, and no law enforcement came. I thought, ‘Well this is all right.’” —from a 2014 interview for Traverse magazine

Tributes to Fred Dakota

Full obituary: NPR

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