Oneida women have been instrumental in the development of one of the most prosperous and successful economic initiatives on the Oneida Reservation, Indian Gaming. In 1976 Oneida welcomed the creative efforts of several Oneida women to begin simple fund raising through the conduct of bingo games. The Oneida Civic Center housed the humble beginning of what was to become the most lucrative business ever created on the Oneida Reservation. One of the most significant elements in the development of Oneida Bingo was the leadership and vision of Oneida mothers and grandmothers. Most, if not all of these women were grassroots Oneida born and raised women who were seeking a better quality of life, education and employment for their community.
The motivation for success was to see the youth and elders benefit from the profits of Oneida Bingo. The proceeds were used to offset the costs of operation of the Oneida Civic Center and also to fund a nursing home concept. As Oneida Bingo became an on the job training initiative, it grew to spring off a police department, retail division and the Anna John Nursing Home.
The following excerpt is from the book The Bingo Queens of Oneida by Mike Hoeft about how bingo started encapsulates the history in a nutshell:
“When Oneida Bingo opened September 19, 1976, it was the first Indian bingo hall in Wisconsin. Thanks to hard work and a good location in Brown County – the state’s third largest county at the time, with 175,000 people- the Oneida were successfully running one of the first tribally run bingo operations in the nation. Bingo not only paid the light bill at the civic center but within a year helped finance badly needed tribal programs for the youth, the elderly and the hungry.
Bingo was the tribe’s first moneymaker on a reservation where about half the population lived in poverty.”
After more than four decades, the bingo operation continues under the Oneida Casino, the umbrella operation for all Oneida gaming. Oneida women were the leaders and innovators behind the creation of a profitable gaming operation. Today, the Oneida Casino is one of the leading profit makers for the Oneida Nation.
Hoeft, Mike. The Bingo Queens of Oneida: How Two Moms Started Tribal Gaming in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2014.