Native American Gaming Pioneer Fred Dakota, Who Started Casino In UP Garage, Dies At Age 84

Written By Matt Schoch on September 13, 2021 - Last Updated on September 15, 2021

A Michigan tribal leader who was known as the “Grandfather of Indian Gaming” died Monday, according to a published obituary.

Fred Dakota, a longtime Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal president who started a casino in a rural Upper Peninsula garage to national fanfare in the early 1980s, was 84.

The development and fallout from Dakota’s The Pines casino in Zeba helped create an industry that has helped Native Americans immensely in the decades since.

‘The Pines’ helped lead to multi-billion dollar industry

According to the National Indian Gaming Commission, Native American tribal casinos grossed $27.8 billion in 2020. That number was down from previous years because of the pandemic. Today, Michigan has 23 tribal casinos operated by the state’s 12 federally recognized tribes.

In many ways, it all started with Dakota and The Pines and a $10,000 loan from the bank.

After securing a gaming license from KBIC leadership, Dakota reportedly opened The Pines on New Year’s Eve in the early 1980s in his brother-in-law’s two-car garage.

There were homemade blackjack tables and, in time, plenty of patrons. The New York Times came to the Upper Peninsula to profile Dakota and the casino in February 1984.

The casino, which was closed after about 18 months and much wrangling in the court, was the precursor to the Ojibwa Casino in Baraga. The tribe later added another casino in Marquette.

Language in court decisions about The Pines led to Michigan tribes opening their own gambling halls. It was a progression of decisions stemming from how state nonprofits could host legal gambling nights as fundraisers.

Tribes in Northern Michigan began opening casinos in the lead-up to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. IGRA established the jurisdictional framework.

Funeral services for Dakota at 3 p.m. Friday; tribal offices, casinos closed

Dakota served as the KBIC tribal chairman for many years and was on the tribal council in recent years.

“It was an honor and a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest leaders in Indian Country,” KBIC tribal chairman Warren Swartz Jr. said in a statement. “Fred impacted not only KBIC, but many tribal communities with his leadership abilities. I, for one, am grateful for what he has done for me personally and professionally. I will miss his visits and his leadership qualities.”

There is a funeral service for Dakota at 3 p.m. Friday at Reid Funeral Service and Chapel in L’Anse. The family will greet well-wishers starting at noon. After the service, internment will follow in the Pinery Cemetery with traditional native drumming and Baraga County area veterans, as Dakota was a veteran of the Marines.

The KBIC tribal offices will be closed Friday in his honor, and both Ojibwa Casinos will be closed from 1-5 p.m. that day.

Photo by WLUC-TV/Courtesy photo
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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