The last time I gambled in a casino was with my mother in Winnemucca, Nevada, at least thirty years ago. We were on a road trip and had stopped to use the bathroom. On the way out, Mom said, “Hey, let’s play a slot machine. I never have. Here, honey, go buy us some fun.” You can imagine the eyeroll from the clerk when I handed her two dollars for a roll of nickles.

More recently, my daughter and I were on the Olympic Peninsula for an overnight trip. We decided to stay at the Seven Cedars Hotel, one of the local Native American Tribe’s enterprises. The hotel is a finally realized addition to their very popular casino.

Our room was well appointed and made me wish we could have such a cool bathroom and walk-in shower at home. We always pay extra for a balcony allowing us to sit outside in the early morning. There, with steaming mugs of tea and coffee, we wait for daylight and the birds to arrive. Our balcony, however, looked out on to a flat gravel rooftop—oh, well. We could still see the sun’s rising.

We were an easy walk to a link to the remarkable Discovery Trail and a short drive to the Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim. Between the soothing sound of the Dungeness River, birds galore, and the sun, we relished the antidote to our endless, gray winter days. There is something about the Olympic Peninsula—I’m in awe of its noble formation and appreciate its beauty whenever I’m lucky enough to be there.

We wanted a take-out dinner to consume on the balcony or watch TV (a big-screen novelty for us). But to get to both restaurants we had to go through the hoppin’, jumpin’ action of the casino. The intense din, the flashing neon, the crowds, and row-after-row of slot machines were rattling. I can still conjure up those apples, oranges, and whatevers spinning everywhere we looked.

The casino was such a stark contrast to the hotel’s lobby and long halls. There we could pause and take in the stunning traditional painting and sculpture; the kind of dignity and respect due this and every tribe and its people.

I have to confess a personal antipathy for what others consider genuine fun. Basically, I’m a tightwad when it comes to spending money on lottery tickets, the slots—even bingo. It might have to do with almost never winning. I did notice that many of the people working what we used to call one-arm-bandits were definitely not of the upper class. The wealthier customers were discreetly off to the sides where card games, roulette wheels, and entertainment flourished.           

As for the older adults pouring some amount of money into the slots, I hoped it wasn’t from their social security checks. I mentioned this to a friend and she suggested a different reason for the number of seniors at the casino – loneliness. “Maybe the draw is other people, something besides staring at the TV alone,” she said. I admit I’m embarrassed that this didn’t occur to me, even after two years of working with seniors. After taking me into their confidence, many of my interviewees admitted to being just that—lonely.

Whatever the reasons for a casino full of people, I wish them well, and hitting the jackpot now and again.

We hurried into the second half of the vast casino, right into a giant smoking section. Now the neon was filtered through clouds of noxious air. I was stunned—indoor smoking. Wow! The two adjoining restaurants reminded me of the former smoking/non-smoking seating on airplanes—you were just inhaling without a cigarette. I felt bad for the people who had to work in that environment.

In 2006-2007, I lived and worked on the Olympic Peninsula under a generously-funded grant to learn about the unmet needs of older adults living in Clallam County. Unlike many research projects, we were committed to hearing from a variety of seniors first, the experts and service providers came later. It was the best, most poignant job I’ve ever had.

Among the many people I met were several Tribal Chairs. They were gracious with their time as I learned about the needs of their elders and other pressing issues. Finding funds to locate their people to safety in the event of a tsunami was on all of their minds. And while it was never spoken, I observed how being forced on to reservations was not ancient history, nor should be.

I had several conversations with the Chair of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe that owns and operates the hotel where we stayed. As the second largest employer in Clallam County, the Tribe has invested its financial success into its people as well as continues to contribute to the greater community.

As Chair, Ron Allen has done an amazing job of working with local organizations and officials to improve healthcare services and to bring innovation and entertainment to the county.

I like thinking about that weekend on the Peninsula these many months later. It helped me remember how much I appreciated those sunnier skies, the natural beauty, smaller communities, the Tribal art and history, learning from the local seniors, and renewing my respect for all of the hardworking people I came to know there. 


Photo credits: Beautiful photo of Olympic Peninsula – Carol Kasprzyk, Slot machine – dear, Dream catcher – andreas-wagner