A vigorous account of the improbable history that connects the near-extinction of the Pequot tribe in the late-18th century with their dominance of New England gaming in the late 20th.
Eisler (A Justice For All, 1993, etc.) is attentive to this tale’s absurd and tragic elements. During the 16th century, explorers described the Pequot Indians as “the most warlike, the fiercest” tribe of the eastern seaboard, and they were practically exterminated by 1800 as a result of violent wars of attrition, as well as impoverishment and disease. The author provides a tart history of the game of Bingo, depicting how the modest Depression-era “Beano” morphed into an addictive middle-American fundraising icon that was seized upon in the 1970s by Native Americans after various ill-starred moneymaking ventures had fallen through. Eisler introduces the dynamic personalities involved in the Pequot resurrection—notably Skip Hayward, whose grandmother was considered the last living resident of the swampy 200-acre Pequot reservation near Ledyard, Connecticut. Upon learning of the town’s plan to seize the reservation for parkland, Hayward convinced several dozen cousins to relocate and revive the tribe. He followed a tortuous legal path—abetted by the growing savvy of their lawyer, Tom Turreen, and crucial court decisions regarding tribal sovereignty—towards the establishment of Pequot gambling, first in lucrative poker parlors, then in construction of the well-known Foxwoods Casino (which, as Eisler documents, demolished the rural comfort treasured by Ledyard’s non-Pequot residents while offering the town little recompense). Although the story bogs down somewhat in tales of international financiers and municipal minutiae, the author captures a great deal of importance from the contemporary scene: the ironically destructive redress of old grievances, gambling advocates’ fondness for corrosive quick fixes, and the slow death of rarefied New England, urged along by economic strife and the region’s unacknowledged racial and class schisms. The tale concludes with Hayward’s forfeiture of tribal control to a young, venal, criminally connected clique, offering readers a final glimpse into mainstream gambling’s addictive, mirrored allure.
A fascinating account of triumph against adversity, turned inside out.