I love the Lower Sioux Community members, but all those smoking gamblers? That's another story.

While on a work-related trip to visit a handful of newspapers in southwestern Minnesota a couple weeks ago, I spent a night at Jackpot Junction Casino and Hotel, owned and operated by the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton, Minn., a tiny town outside of Redwood Falls.

    It was a nice place, typical of what you might expect of a tribal-owned hotel and casino, which are sprinkled across Minnesota.

    But culturally sensitive types might be a bit offended to learn that, a few hours after I checked into the hotel, I drove a few more miles down the road to a different establishment. Why??Because I wanted to be with my people.

    Ouch, right? Send me to sensitivity training, and right quick! Or don’t even give me the chance to reform my ignorance, even racist views and just fire my butt!

    Hold on there, pilgrim. Give me a chance to explain.

    I was starving and, shall we say, particularly parched after a long and stressful day that involved numerous meetings with numerous newspaper writers, editors and publishers, and many miles behind the wheel. As someone who rarely gambles, my initial reaction when I strolled into the Jackpot Junction lobby was that, even though I was alone and had no one to share the evening with, I was still in for a reasonably entertaining and relaxing evening that would offer me a chance to decompress.

    Food was first on my list, so I strolled down the wide hallway toward the jingling and ringing sounds emanating from the casino, figuring opportunities for sustenance would be found along the way. Sure enough, there was a restaurant on the right, but it was a buffet, the entire concept of which frightens me more than fat-free ranch dressing.

    So further down the hall I walked, and a few paces later I found another eatery. I saw menus near the front entry, which seemed to rule out a repeat of the buffet nightmare I’d come across a moment before. So I peered in and my eyes and ears took in a cafeteria-like ambience. There were rows of big, rectangle tables surrounded by lots of chairs, with not a mounted, flat-screen TV to be found. It was silent as a library, too, with not a note of music playing. Picture your typical Pizza Ranch in your mind, only with brighter lights, and you’ve basically nailed it.

    With stomach growling and a liver particularly anxious to filter the alcohol contents of a couple beers, I asked the nearest hostess if there was a sports bar-type of establishment within the walls of the hotel and casino, and to my dismay she said no. With shoulders slumped, I said thanks and shuffled in morose fashion back to the big hallway.

    I then walked, forlorn, through the maze that was the multi-level casino. Gauging the general demographic vibe of the place, I figured I was around 40 years younger than the median age of the gambling patrons. There were a couple of places that a person could sit and have a drink, but the sound from the mounted TVs was drowned out by all the jingling and ringing of the slot and video poker machines. A cute bartender called me “hun” when I grabbed a stool, and that made me feel slightly better...for around three seconds.

    Because that’s when I saw it. Or should I say, when I saw them. Ash trays. Ash trays everywhere. Kids, an ash tray is something that people at one time used to tip the ashes off the end of their cigarettes, back in the days when smoking was allowed pretty much everywhere.

    Then the stench hit me, that stale cigarette odor, the kind of smoky smell that permeates every fiber of your clothes and every pore on your skin. The kind of bluish-gray cloud smell that convinces you you’re going to die about 30 years before you’re supposed to. The cloud that immediately triggers your mind to tell your throat that it’s scratchy, and that your contact lenses are drying up.

    I started to walk back toward the big hallway, gasping and grasping for a return to a level of normalcy.

    Then, a minor miracle. The bartender, apparently seeing the Giants Ridge golf polo shirt I?was wearing, asked if I was at the casino to golf. Nope, it was a work-related trip, I told her.

    But almost immediately, images of a pro shop, clubhouse, flat-screen TVs and overpriced beer and food popped into my mind. “Where is the golf course, anyway?” I wondered.

    Dacotah Ridge Golf Course was a few miles down the road, she said.

    “Nice clubhouse?” I inquired.

    “You know it, hun,” she replied.

    I practically floated out to the parking lot and my vehicle, and was in the Dacotah Ridge clubhouse in less than 10 minutes, with menu in hand and a large, flat-screen TV mounted on the wall in front of me tuned to The Golf Channel.

    The bartender, not quite as cute as the one at the casino, asked how I played. I hadn’t, I told her. She then figured I was going to grab a bite to eat and squeeze in a quick round before dark.

    Nope, no golf tonight, I told her, adding that I didn’t even bring my clubs.

    “We could rent you a great set,” she said.

    No need, I replied. “It’s all good,”?I said. “I just needed to be with my people.”

    See, it’s not so bad now, is it, when put in the proper context. I needed to be with golfers, not gamblers.