It’s always a shock when you lose someone who you think is rather indestructible. Dave Palermo was one of those guys. When I heard he had taken his own life last weekend, I was dumfounded.
I first met Dave in the 1980s when he was the gaming reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal. Since there were only two gaming trade publications at that time, we got to be pretty friendly, sometimes referring each other to “scoops” or soon-to-be scoops. Our friendship continued when he moved to Biloxi, Mississippi to work on the newspaper there during the emergence of the Mississippi gaming industry. It was a heady time for everyone involved and Dave reported it accurately and fairly.
If you read Dave’s resume, you’ll see he’s worked at many of the major newspapers in the country and knew a lot of famous—and infamous—journalists and newsmakers around the country. But he was restless. His tenure at any one publication was usually relatively short. Yes, Dave could be a little ornery—OK, I can already hear some of the readers say “a little?”—but he had a good heart.
There was nothing he liked better than a good story. And that was all that mattered to him when chasing a story. He didn’t really care about the characters or who would be helped or hurt by his stories. He just wanted to tell the truth, and sometimes that got him into trouble. Let the chips fall where they may.
But when he found tribal gaming, it was here where Palermo found his passion. I’ve always contended that tribal gaming is the best story in the casino industry because it raised up an entire race of people when they often had no hope. Dave agreed and was immediately drawn to the subject.
When he started working for me about 10 years ago, that was his beat. He didn’t care to cover commercial gaming unless it had some sort of impact on tribal gaming. That said, however, Dave knew there were warts and problems with tribal gaming and he didn’t shy away from pointing that out. Again, he made some enemies of those that didn’t want their game to be exposed, but overall Indian Country respected what Dave reported.
He would always forward to me emails after his stories were published from tribal officials telling him how much they enjoyed his reporting. He would also forward to me those emails who didn’t agree with what he reported—always with a caveat that if I thought he got something wrong, we could run a retraction. I never had cause to do that in all the years he worked for me.
I remember how passionate he got when he told me about how Jacob Coin, a longtime executive with the San Manuel tribe of California but also a member of the Hopi tribe, invited him to take part in Hopi rituals that were normally off-limits to non-tribal members. Dave was blown away by the spiritualism and respect for the elders of the tribe. He described to me how he had been moved to tears when he witnessed the connections with the past, present and future of the Hopis. Dave was eternally grateful to Jake for that opportunity.
From that point on, Dave’s reporting on tribal gaming became more than just a story to him. He was totally involved with the intricacies and links that bring together tribal governments, regulators and gaming operators.
But because he had such a elevated regard for tribal gaming, he held officials to a higher standard. Business as usual wasn’t good enough for him. Because tribal gaming officials had a higher responsibility to the tribe they worked for or belonged to—and Indian Country as a whole—Dave was the gadfly to point out when things fell short of the mark.
It’s always difficult for those of us left behind when someone takes their own life. We wonder what we missed or what we could have done to change that person’s mind. Believe me, I’ve been doing that since I heard about his death.
But in the end, we never know what was in the mind of that person or what drove them to that decision. The outpouring of love and respect that we’ve seen for Dave in the days since his death has been awesome. From posts on Facebook, to emails, to phone calls I’ve received, everyone is grieving his loss and remembering him fondly.
But if I could tell Dave one more thing it would be this: Dave Palermo, you made a difference in this world and your life was worth living. We will miss you and your sometimes gruff personality, but know that we will always respect you.