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Montana tribal casino finally opened

8 January 2007

BROWNING, Montana – As reported by the Great Falls Tribune: " — On an icy December day, Carol Vielle bathes in the warm, pulsating lights of a video bingo machine.

"…Vielle picked the 'Mr. Cashman" game from a sea of 500 electronic bingo machines at the Blackfeet Tribe's new Glacier Peaks Casino. This machine tempts with a payout of some $30,000. While payouts at off-reservation casinos in Montana are capped at $800,jackpots for video bingo — available only on Indian reservations — are unlimited, reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"…Vielle is part of a much larger gamble on the Blackfeet Reservation.

"Her tribe invested more than $7 million to open the 33,000-square-foot, Vegas-style casino in Browning. Mired in poverty and joblessness, the Blackfeet want a piece of the booming $22.6 billion Indian gaming industry that is bringing wealth to tribes across the United States.

"…The Blackfeet's entry into the world of big-time casinos saw a few hitches.

"The tribe hoped to open Glacier Peaks in late spring 2006, but construction delays pushed the soft opening to late summer, forcing the casino into the long winter without reserves from the summer tourist season.

"…At the casino's glitzy grand opening in late September, a skydiver dressed as Elvis was severely injured in a crash-landing. He died at a Seattle hospital in November.

"Now financial issues — including layoffs, an across-the-board pay cut, and a recent cash flow shortage that required a $50,000 loan from the tribe — have raised questions about Glacier Peaks' viability.

"…Casinos won't make rural tribes like the Blackfeet rich, said NIGA Executive Director Mark Van Norman.

"…With roughly 250 machines, it's about half the size of Glacier Peaks. The tribe uses casino earnings to buy school clothes for children.

"…And unlike other rural casinos, Glacier Peaks has the advantage of neighboring Glacier National Park, which can draw more than 2 million visitors a year…"

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