The Bingo Queens of Oneida: How Two Moms Started Tribal Gaming in Wisconsin

By Mike Hoeft

Paperback: $16.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-652-8

216 Pages, 31 b&w photos, 2 maps, 6 x 9 E-book Edition Available


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Before Indian casinos, a few enterprising tribes got their start in gambling by opening bingo parlors. A group of women on the Oneida Indian Reservation just outside Green Bay, Wisconsin, introduced bingo in 1976 simply to pay a few bills. Bingo not only paid the light bill at the struggling civic center but was soon financing vital health and housing services for tribal elderly and poor.

"The Bingo Queens of Oneida: How Two Moms Started Tribal Gaming in Wisconsin" tells the story through the eyes of Sandra Ninham and Alma Webster, the Oneida women who had the idea for a bingo operation run by the tribe. Bingo became the tribe's first moneymaker on a reservation where about half the population was living in poverty.

Author Mike Hoeft traces the historic struggles of the Oneida from their alliance with America during the Revolutionary War to their journey to Wisconsin and details the lives of inspirational tribal members who worked alongside Ninham and Webster. The Bingo Queens of Oneida is the story of not only how one game helped revive the Oneida economy but also how one game strengthened the Oneida community.

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Note: This book meets and exceeds the requirements of the Wisconsin American Indian Education Act (Act 31).

After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico, Mike Hoeft worked as a reporter and copy editor for thirty years on daily newspapers. For twenty-three of those years he was on staff in the newsroom of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. He lives with his family in Oneida, Wisconsin, and currently works as a paralegal for the Oneida Tribe Child Support Agency. This is his first book.

“Mike Hoeft has written a beautiful portrait of contemporary Wisconsin Oneida Indian life and its vitality. It is a tribute to the women of the Oneidas—particularly the lives of two determined Oneida women, Alma Webster and Sandy (Ninham) Brehmer—who helped lead the cultural, economic, and political resurgence in this Wisconsin community over the past four decades.” -Laurence M. Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and coeditor of A Nation within a Nation: Voices of the Oneidas in Wisconsin

“The hand that rocked the cradle found a new weapon in the war on poverty. This is the story of strong American Indian women who helped rebuild a great Indian nation. The Oneida bingo moms inspired me!” -Melanie Benjamin, chief executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, and cofounder of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations

“This book is far more ambitious than its modest title suggests. The two bingo moms, Sandy and Alma, are certainly the heart of the book. But the author places those moms in much broader contexts—historical, cultural, and social. He also liberally interweaves personal stories of Oneida people. The overall effect is to make the book more of a conversation, less of a lecture." -Arlinda Locklear, attorney and longtime special counsel for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin

“Rooted in extensive research and key interviews, The Bingo Queens of Oneida provides a unique picture of an economic accomplishment of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin brought about by the ingenuity, doughty work, and remarkable insight of two Oneida mothers. Hoeft admirably places their work in its cultural and historical context. This volume is an indispensable addition to our understanding of a dynamic nation.” -David R. Wrone, history professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point

"Hoeft, a seasoned Green Bay journalist,has crafted a volume to help readers understand the nuances of the controversial terrain of Indian gaming. The clean, straightforward writing is supported by meticulous research and abundant interviews. The result is a rare glimpse into contemporary American indian life." -Kathleen Ratteree, Annals of Iowa