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Poetry Friday: The Double-Edged 'Jackpot'

A new collection of poems by New Mexico-based writer Rick Abasta focuses on the intersection of two worlds: the Navajo Nation, and non-native society. Traditional and contemporary lifestyles overlap in Abasta’s poems, as do languages and politics. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, he reads Jackpot from his collection All Eyes on Me. It’s a stark look at the double-edged sword of tribal casinos.

RA: Hello, my name is Rick Abasta. I am Near to Water Clan, born for Filipino. This collection spans over the past 25 years of my life; poems about working for the tribal government and poems about surrounding border town communities and the experiences reflected in that.

I’d say maybe 10 years ago or so, gaming was introduced to our tribe. We were probably one of the last tribes to hold out with gaming. It went through referendum on our nation maybe two or three times before the people finally approved for this to come. All these times, a lot of our tribal members were traveling off the nation to surrounding Pueblo communities and gaming there. And when they built the new casino in Church Rock, New Mexico, which is right next door to Gallup, a lot of our tribal members went there. You would read stories in the newspaper about corn pollen being found in the machines when they would have to clean it, and people were doing their Navajo offerings there at the machine just so they could win.

A lot of times when you go to these casinos, you see nothing but Navajo elders that are there. These are people who are on fixed incomes with a limited amount of money to spend each month, but they’re spending it at the casino. Most often or not, spending all of their money at the casino. So, it’s a double-edged sword: I mean, it’s good that our tribe is getting $1.4 billion in the past 10 years off of Navajo gaming, but the flip side of that is at what cost?

Today, I’m going to read Jackpot from my new collection of poetry, All Eyes on Me.

Credit Navajo-Hopi Observer
New Mexico-based writer Rick Abasta. His new collection of Dine' poetry is called All Eyes on Me.


She slipped in her last

twenty-dollar bill and prayed

for the maximum jackpot

and a brand new life.

Instead, she left dejected

and returned home empty-handed

once again with a story for the kids

about no groceries for the week.

The convenience of having a

new casino so close to home

only means gas costs less, but

with the same diminishing returns.

Hungry bellies scream in protest

upon dead ears pointed toward

the always-ringing super jackpot,

just beyond the reach of the slots.

Around these noisy machines,

the prayers of many

are the loudest sound anywhere in

the Navajo Nation casino.

There are no atheists in a casino,

this adage definitely holds true

for many fighting poverty and hunger

on the frontlines of the betting wars.

The sound of the progressive jackpot

resounds all around as others win

and she inserts bill after bill into the

cold machine and keeps coming up none.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at 

Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.