Voices of the Clarion: Answers come in a dream

Heavy dinner leads to possible solution to peninsula woes

Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2005

I don't know if it was the heavy pizza dinner I ate the evening before, but I awoke the other night in the middle of a dream that appears to solve all of the Kenai Peninsula's financial woes.

I dreamt it was a relatively dry evening and I found myself driving out on Swanson River Road toward the Kenaitze Indian lands north of Sterling.

I'd been that way before, looking for out-of-the-way places to put in my canoe and test my ability to hook a few Dolly Vardens, but this time, just as I approached the Native land, I saw a glow similar to that one sees rising from the bowl of night in the Nevada desert on approach to Las Vegas.

To my great surprise here on the outskirts of Sterling now stood a brightly lit, gaudy edifice with a neon sign spelling out the words "North Lights Casino."

I couldn't believe my eyes.

Not usually one to pass up a chance to double my money, I turned in to the parking lot, and as I rounded the circular drive, a middle-age man, donning a slightly worn black Agrium jacket with some sort of industrial safety milestone embroidered beneath the Agrium name, approached, asking if he could park my truck.

I didn't give it much thought at the time, as I tossed my keys to him and headed for the craps table.

I've never really understood my attraction to that particular casino game, except that I recall once having read an article that said the odds of all the other games favor the house.

A pair of bouncing little cubes, somehow don't appear to favor anyone, in my way of thinking. Besides, there's just something about the 9:1 odds of playing the "Hard 8" that just tickles me — for the uninitiated, the Hard 8 consists of a 4 on each die.

As I got to the craps table, I spotted a former Nikiski grade school teacher working as the pit boss.

I couldn't believe it.

Here I was at a casino I've never been in before, and I've already seen two people I sort of recognized.

Perhaps it's the fact that I'm the cops reporter at the Clarion, but for whatever reason, I spend an inordinate amount of time at the Moose is Loose bakery. That probably accounts for the fact that the dice in use at the craps table in my dream had little brown mooses on them — they actually sell dice like that at the Soldotna bake shop.

As my winnings at the table began to mount, the cocktail waitresses started coming more and more often. Although I only drink O.J. or 7 Up while gambling, I am a generous tipper when I'm on a winning streak, and since this is my dream, I'm winning.

Even the waitresses began looking familiar to me. Then it dawned on me, they were former Kmart cashiers, who apparently didn't stack up when Home Depot elevated the shopping experience in Kenai to the highest level.

Now things began to add up.

Besides providing a chance for me to double, triple, even quadruple the amount of income I was subjecting to Internal Revenue Service taxation, this tribal casino was giving jobs to everyone around here who recently had been cast off by the private and public sectors — workers from the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski, 30 or so teachers let go by the borough school district as enrollments decline and the working class people tossed out when Kmart's corporate bottom line quit generously lining the coffers of the retailer's big wigs.

All those beneficiaries notwithstanding, the Kenai Peninsula's Indian tribe had to be raking in huge dollars.

In fact, as I recall, just before I went out for pizza that day, I read an Associated Press report saying, "Indian gambling pulled in $18.5 billion in 2004."

That's billion with a "B!"

That's nearly double the take for Nevada's gambling industry, the report said.

It went on to point out that this was not just a flash in the pan scheme. In fact, tribal casinos were turning in double-digit growth for more than a decade in the 28 states where they are legal.

Critics have complained that, being sovereign nations, tribes are exempt from paying state and local taxes, but tribal leaders are quick to point out that tribal gambling has directly or indirectly created 553,000 jobs, mostly for non-Indians.

That oughta make the revenuers happy.

As with all dreams, I awoke before I saw all I wanted.

I still didn't have an answer for the commercial fishers who are forbidden by the state board of fish from fishing when the fish are running. I don't think I'll ever stop scratching my head over this one.

Maybe the Army Corps of Engineers can reverse the flow of the Swanson River and have it end up at the doors of the casino. That way, the fishers could at least roll the dice and have a 50-50 chance at fortune.

I also awoke before I could see who was wearing the suit and tie and creating all those fancy drinks under the shingle, "Mayoral Mixocology."

Was it someone already displaced from a bureaucratic helm or someone soon to be?

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Clarion.

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