‘There’s fucked and then there is horse-fucked. We got horse-fucked. We should have killed you assholes at Plymouth Rock.“–Anonymous American Indian at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
“Lewis and Clark went west to see if, A) there was a passage West to the Pacific Ocean by water–which there was not and B) if there were any more Indians to fuck over–which there were.“–Steve Earle
The Bureau of Indian affairs lists 562 Tribal Councils in the U.S. Almost all of them are now, in one way or another, involved in gaming. This is the latest gift we’ve bestowed upon first-nation people. The first ones, of course, being smallpox, alcohol, genocide and acre-upon-acre of shitty cinder block structures that somehow pass for housing, on equally shitty tracts of scrub land, known as reservations.
The Indian casino solution started as a pissing match between the Seminole tribe of Florida and the state government there over a high-stakes bingo game. No shit. Bingo.
At last count there were something like 360 Indian casinos in operation in the continental U.S. The Indian tribes embraced gaming as a way to improve their lives on the desolate reservations with wildly varying degrees of success. They were sold gaming much like every other community is; with promises of better schools, housing and access to health care and services and in some cases, these things actually came to some degree of fruition. In a great many, however, the usual fleas and ticks came along with this grimy industry: organized crime, prostitution, drugs. . .not to mention a spike in alcoholism, suicide, divorce and domestic violence. The shitty cinder-block structures just have better cars and new trucks parked out in front of them. The desperation and poverty remain.
If you are wondering what I mean when I say organized crime, it’s like this. Any heavily cash-money business is a lure for crime syndicates. It is an opportunity to loan shark, launder money and, seeing as Indian reservations pay no taxes, it is also a perfect place to hide ill-gotten profits. Now some Indian casinos have partnered up with state governments and no longer enjoy tax-exempt status. Still, theft of cash via skimming, short-counting and even dealers palming chips is rampant.
The truth is, that at any one time, nobody ever knows exactly how much money is supposed to be there. They can estimate and they can guess, but nobody can say for sure. There are counting rooms in every casino where all men and women do ALL day is count money. Under the slots, in the basement, the dropping of coins sounds like a steady, metallic rain 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This is how it is for successful Indian casinos. There are others, out West, that are scarcely bigger than a double-wide trailer. I once stopped at one between Albuquerque and Santa Fe with my friend, Mickey Cartin. The signs outside boasted of it being new and it was the size and vibe of three Taco Bells slapped together as a trailer, if you can picture this.
I don’t fuck around with gambling much, particularly blackjack, in which some math skills are helpful. Mine are non-existent. My pal, Mickey, though, is an experienced gambler and card player. At one time he used to go to Foxwoods in Connecticut and soak them for several thousand dollars at a time. He can always spot a fledgling or weak-ish dealer and he moves in for the kill. It’s like watching a cheetah looking for the gimpy antelope. By the time they get wise to him and bring in a “mechanic,” Mickey is on to another table or he leaves.
At the casino in New Mexico, the lackjack dealer was woefully inexperienced and within eight minutes, Mickey was up $900 dollars. And then a weird thing happened. He felt bad and decided to stop playing–to cash out. This made the numb-nuts dealer furious–just out of his mind. I wanted to tell him how lucky he was. That had Mick decided to keep playing, he’d have broken the place in pretty short order.
It occurred to us that this whole enterprise was not staffed by anyone who’d had any real experience in a real casino. With this thought, we couldn’t really enjoy gambling in the place. It is also worth noting that we were the only people in the place other than the employees. Now granted, it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, but still. . . It underlined the idea that not all Indian casinos were cash cows, and I’m betting that no small amount of them lose their asses on a regular basis.
For some reason, I cannot stop being appalled at the treatment throughout the totality of American history of the Native American peoples. If they hate us, they certainly have every right to.
On my way back from the West, I got a good look at some of the reservations and it is heartbreaking. My friend, Mark Turcotte, an Ojibwe-Chippewa wrote a stunning collection of poems some years ago called, Exploding Chippewas and in this collection, life on the reservation is relayed detail-by-unsparing-detail–and with no small amount of humor ladled in as well–all of these poems begin with the mordantly funny preface:
“Back when I used to be an Indian. . .”
It’s funny because the P.C. crowd is very careful about using the words, “Native American,” and then being woefully oblivious to the continuing inequities and brutalities we subject the rightful owners of this nation to.
My friend, Turcotte, does not let them off the hook so easily, though. In one of the Rez poems, he dares us to take full notice of him and reminds us that: ‘”Millions scream in my veins. . .”