20 years since 4 Bears Casino & Lodge opening

NEW TOWN Twenty years ago 4 Bears Casino & Lodge, west of New Town, was one of the first casinos on a North Dakota Indian reservation as well as in North Dakota to open its doors.

On the afternoon of July 16, 1993, a Friday at 2 p.m. the Three Affiliated Tribes’ first gaming venture opened for business, according to The Minot Daily News files.

More than 1,000 customers came through the doors during the next two hours after the opening exceeding the expectations of the management team.

Wilbur Wilkinson, then chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, called it “the finest gaming facility in North Dakota.”

“We’ve very proud of this facility and what it means to our people,” he said at a media day held to showcase the casino before its official opening. He said it wouldn’t solve the unemployment problem but it would help.

The casino was built at the former Four Bears Motor Lodge on the western shore of Lake Sakakawea. When it opened the Bruce H. Lein company managed the casino. Later the tribes took over the management. Already that July, the lodge was booked solid until September of that year.

The casino’s opening already was impacting area businesses. Local motel operators said their phones were ringing continuously with calls from people and were turning people away because of the lack of rooms.

Tribal program directors hoped their respective programs would receive funding from the casino profits.

That same year, a 22,000-square-foot addition to house additional gaming and facilities for live entertainment was scheduled to be completed in the fall. Since that time other renovations and additions have been completed. Other entities have been added to the operation.

Casinos have been operating on all of North Dakota’s reservations for a number of years.