Gambling is a tax on people who can’t do math.
I am driving through the pre-dawn murk of an early summer morning en route to Pearson International Airport, a couple of hours away.
I’m on a gravel road, no traffic in sight save an obese raccoon that waddles grumpily off the shoulder and into the brush as I pass.
No other signs of life, but a glow looms up over the trees on my left. I get past the trees and…
A neon fortress is what it is, huge and totally alien here in the Ontario hinterland.
A sign in front tells me I’m passing Casino Rama and that Dolly Parton will be performing next week.
My wristwatch tells me it is 6:15 in the morning. And my eyes tell me that the Casino Rama parking lot is nearly full.
Full??? At dawn????
You betchum, Lone Ranger.
Casino Rama is the largest First Nations casino in Canada.
It is run by and for the Chippewas of Rama First Nation and it is a right little gold mine.
The facility boasts a hotel, a 5,000 seat entertainment centre, 10 restaurants and two lounges, but mostly it boasts 2,500 glittering slot machines and 110 gaming tables, all dedicated to separating gullible patrons from their money.
There’s no shortage of either.
Casino Rama perches on the geographical forehead of the Greater Toronto Area, close to flush urban centres like Barrie, Lindsay and Midland.
Literally millions of potential customers live within a bus ride of Casino Rama. Not surprisingly, the owners run free shuttle buses pretty much around the clock.
It’s a pattern that’s repeating itself around North America.
The Mdewakanton Sioux of northern Minnesota used to be an impoverished and hopeless band of American Indian survivors existing on government handouts.
Now, they have Mystic Lake Casino, proceeds from which have financed a community and fitness centre, a hotel and an RV park.
The tribe has done so well it’s been able to hand out more than half a billion dollars in loans and outright grants to other tribes for economic development.
They even made enough from the casino to donate $15 million to the University of Minnesota for scholarships and a new stadium.
The Sioux have also set aside money to return to their roots, restoring wetlands to promote waterfowl, fish and wild rice plantings.
They’ve put in organic gardens and planted fruit trees.
And they’ve started an apiary to harvest honey.
But their most lucrative honey-making beehive is the glitzy Mystic Lake Casino which attracts thousands of customers (overwhelmingly white) each week to lay their money down and watch it disappear.
It’s quite a turnaround.
Just a few hundred years ago the First Nations people of North America lived in all the abundance they could possibly handle.
Then came the white man and, by judicious application of whiskey, guns, syphilis and lawyers, they changed all that.
In 1626 some European sharpie showered a band of East Coast Indians with 60 Dutch guilders worth of trinkets, beads and hatchets.
The Indians had no concept of land ownership, but they accepted the gifts. Later, they learned they’d just sold Manhattan Island.
Chief Dan George put it more succinctly.
“At first we had the land and the white man had the Bible,” he said. “Now we have the Bible and the white man has the land.”
The great irony is, First Nations people through agencies like Mystic Lake Casino and Casino Rama, are slowly buying their land back.
And they’re using the white man’s money to do it.
— Arthur Black is a regular columnist for The News. He lives on Salt Spring Island.