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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.


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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