Fred Dakota: The Godfather of the Billion Dollar Indian Gaming Industry Dies at 84


Fred Dakota, a former president and chairman of Michigan’s Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), has died aged 84. The man is seen as the grandfather of Indian gaming for his several legal battles that resulted in a change in Indian gaming rights.

According to the tribe, Dakota died at his home in Baraga, Michigan.

Dakota never went past eighth grade, but in 1980, he took the federal government to court over the right of Michigan tribes to regulate gambling in their sovereign land.

Earlier in 1976, the US Supreme Court ruled that states had no right to tax tribes in the sovereign land or regulate their activities provided they are not illegal under state law.

The ruling prompted KBIC council members to establish their high-stakes bingo regulations and were approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Dakota was then the CEO and president.

However, the council deliberately added casino gaming to see what would happen. To ensure that BIA would comment, the council stipulated that the request must be approved within two weeks.

Dakota once built a casino with a $10, 000 loan from a bank. He converted his brother in law garage into a casino with blackjack tables. The investment was a hit, and Dakota leased land and built a 3, 200 square foot casino.

Some of the tribal council disapproved of Dakota operations and took the matter to US Attorney General Office. He argued that the tribe had the right to regulate gambling activities and that KBIC had already written casino gaming rules.

Dakota’s casino was closed after the court’s ruling based on Michigan law that only permitted nonprofit organizations to operate casino gaming. Dakota tried to appeal the case to US Supreme Court but ran out of cash.

Dakota is gone, but he will be remembered as a man who helped kickstart a multibillion-dollar industry. He served as tribal chairman for 20 years. He also fought to establish KBIC’s Ojibwa Casino in Baraga.


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