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‘You know, this used to be a one horse town in the middle of nowhere.’  Talking to me is Terri, a Pai Gow Poker dealer at Foxwood Resorts and Casino, perched atop  Mashantucket, the “much-wooded land” in Ledyard, Connecticut.  From the looks of  Terri’s face, she seems to have traveled back in time, perhaps picturing how desolate the landscape looked just a few years earlier.  Even though Terri’s table is temporarily abandoned for it having become too “hot,” as I look around, rest of the place is bustling. Hundreds of gaming tables across the huge expanse are all occupied.  I feel the din of the noise and the hush of the silence and suspense, all at the same time.  I observe the stern faces of the dealers and the flurry of activities of the pit supervisors in the background. I watch  the gamblers pondering, getting excited, and plain concentrating on their next moves so much so that most of them don’t even seem to notice the coming and going of the provocatively dressed cocktail waitresses in their buckskin short dresses bunched together at their waists by wide belts, and looking like wild treats with their Indian headbands and feathers in their hair.

When you approach the sign RESERVATION, on Rural route 2, what suddenly materializes in front of your eyes are the shining pagoda-like bottle-green rooftops dotted like centuries old castles along the European highways.  In not too distant a past, Mashantucket was deserted  of all human habitat and if not for two elderly half-sisters, Elizabeth George Plouffe and Martha Langevin Ellal having stayed put,  the state would have seized the land to build a park.

The same fate would have been awaited the bucolic corn fields of Wisconsin and Minnesota instead of the now imposing presence of their Mille Lacs, Hinckley and Ho-Chunk casinos. Once desolate country roads surrounding the Indian reservations, now bring to their huge parking lots of the glittery casinos, a constant stream of cars and busses unloading from just a few to hundreds of people in front of the Hole in the Wall Casino Hotel in Danbury, Wisconsin and Shodakai Coyote Valley Casino in Mendocino County in California, to forty five-thousand people per day in front of Foxwood Resort Casino in Connecticut.

They all come to try their hands at the loud clattering of the slot machines, whisper at the black jack tables, experience suspense of the roulette wheels, feel the exhilaration of the rolling dice on the Craps Tables and watch the unfolding of the numbers on the bingo boards.  Many come just to rest and relax, eat some of the best food and be a spectator of the grand shows featuring great names such as Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Tom Jones, Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn and Willy Nelson.

Though the nighttime brings out some men dressed in their evening best and women in their shiniest, tight fitting, low-cut sequined dresses showing off their perfumed cleavages, the most everyone is dressed in his or her street clothes.  While one may still notice intrigue and suspense on the faces of the gamblers occupying the game tables, the real excitement reigns supreme in the slot machines parlor.  It is in one of them that I witness a curly white haired grandma hitting a jackpot and suddenly the bells going off with the loud piercing wails, the crown light begin to twirl its rainbow and with the thunderous sound, the quarters gushing out of the mouth of the machine like torrential rain.  The grandma dressed in her bright red double-knit pantsuit, getting up from her stool, with her mouth wide open in astonishment, her granddaughter clinging to her and both of them jumping up and down in exhilaration is the sight to behold.  For a few precious moments, the entire parlor freezes to a standstill. The grandma has just proven that winning a jackpot is not just a dream.

What has changed the landscape of the American rural country life is the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, commonly  referred to as IGRA.  It allows the native American tribes to offer versions of gambling that are not specifically prohibited in other parts of the state. Through IGRA, the United States Supreme Court recognizes Indian reservations as sovereign nations in that the Indian tribes have the right to make their own laws and be governed by them.

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