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A man pulls down hard on a lever and watches as each reel on his slot machine spins and stops: one, two, three. He misses a jackpot by just one cherry. A row of machines over, a woman murmurs, "Come on, baby," while her nickel slot machine spins. Across the aisle, a dealer places another card in front of a pensive player. I head toward the Wave Lounge at Blue Lake Casino to grab a snack, play some video Blackjack and enjoy a little slice of Vegas on a quiet Monday night in Humboldt County.

I order fries and a beer beside the rotating taps and feel a little less guilty about indulging because I recently learned the oil that cooked my basket of fries is going to be recycled. The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe turns waste oil from its kitchens into biodiesel to fuel Blue Lake public transit, one of the many eco-friendly initiatives in progress at Blue Lake Casino & Hotel since 2006. In fact, sustainability is at work behind all of Blue Lake Casino and Hotel's dining options — Alice's, Sushi Blue, the Wave Lounge, the late-night Lily Pad Café and, of course, room service. Much of the produce from their kitchen is sourced from a community garden that supports local programs for children and the elderly.

click to enlarge MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna

It's easy to lose track of how many times the cocktail waitress has come by when you're betting your luck on the tables. But when you're ready to turn in, the attached hotel has you covered. Blue Lake Hotel has 102 spacious rooms that feature free Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs and big comfy beds. Because the casino and hotel are tucked away in the Mad River Valley, almost every room has a beautiful view, be it stunning sunset or redwood forest. Though you can't see the rows of solar panels that sit just out of sight behind the casino, stocking up on energy during sunny Humboldt days, they're there. And while you recharge inside the hotel's luxurious rooms, your electric car can, too — the parking lot now features vehicle charging stations.

The casino features 703 slots, 12 tables and five poker tables. With those numbers, you'd assume the electricity bill would be through the roof, but its smaller than you think. That's because Blue Lake Casino & Hotel is attached to a low-carbon microgrid, which combines a solar panel system, transformers, lithium ion batteries and a computerized "brain" to efficiently provide and manage power for the casino and hotel, tribal government administrative offices and all the critical infrastructure that supports them. Currently, the microgrid services 20 to 40 percent of the casino's power needs and, if a power outage occurred on the regional grid, the microgrid would provide power for the tribal community for as long as needed. With high-quality emergency power, the tribe is also able to offer emergency services for the entire local community. The casino and hotel's event center, for instance, is a pre-certified, microgrid-powered American Red Cross shelter. Ultimately, the microgrid minimizes the tribal community's dependency on other forms of less sustainable energy. It's reported that during its first year in use, the microgrid reduced greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 175 tons.

Blue Lake Rancheria Sustainability Director Jana Gainon said the casino and hotel are continually going through upgrades and putting energy efficiency first. Some of the initiatives on the list for the coming year include the expansion of the microgrid, which will allow for more battery storage and a second mini microgrid for the on-site gas station and convenience store (with its own slots), Play Station 777. In the next couple of years, a smart water grid will be implemented in phases. In the first phase, the smart water grid would supply the hotel and casino with clean, emergency standby water. In the second phase, it would be an energy-efficient water management system for the whole tribal community. The casino and hotel plan on reaching net zero emissions in 11 years. "We are definitely on track and I think we are comfortably going to make that goal by 2030," Gainon said.

So, when you get comfortable in your king-sized bed after a night of bright lights, karaoke, slots and Blackjack, you can rest easy knowing future generations won't be paying for your little slice of Vegas.

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Megan Bender

Megan Bender

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