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Blackjack Classes Begin For Deadwood Dealers

May 7, 1989

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ A card game in Deadwood got Wild Bill Hickok killed, but things have quieted down since the legendary lawman was gunned down during a hand of poker in the frontier town’s shoot-’em up days.

True, blackjack and poker are on their way back, but the new dealers of Deadwood are taking a college-sponsored course to learn how to lay out the cards, and the newly legalized gambling will be deliberately a low-stakes affair.

″I grew up in Deadwood. This is like going back in time and reliving a part of Deadwood’s past,″ says Lori Keehn Struble, 23, whose family owns the saloon where Hickok died in 1876 holding his legendary ″dead man’s hand″ of aces and eights.

Struble is enrolled in a course that is training blackjack dealers for the historic Black Hills town’s new gambling halls. She plans to work as a dealer in the family’s No. 10 Saloon.

″There’s a lot to learn,″ Struble says. ″There’s so much concentration involved.″

Voters statewide authorized limited gambling in Deadwood last November. Only blackjack, poker and slot machines are allowed, and bets may not exceed $5. Members of the South Dakota Gaming Commission, appointed last month, said gambling could start late this summer.

The blackjack dealers’ course, which began last week, is offered through Western South Dakota Vocational Technical Institute. Twenty-eight students are enrolled in the first session.

Gary Whiteaker, coordinator of adult business and industry training, said educators consulted with community colleges in Nevada to design the course.

″You don’t go out and find a blackjack dealing curriculum on the shelf,″ he said.

William Thornhill, a former dealers-school owner with 10 years’ experience dealing in Las Vegas, teaches the course. He says Deadwood’s focus on low-key gambling and games of skill should lead to success for the town of 2,000 and its players.

Gaming Commission Chairman Chuck Lien of Rapid City said the panel must hire a staff, write rules to control gambling and devise a security system to prevent corruption. Lien said the commission has requested copies of gaming rules from Nevada, New Jersey and other states where limited gambling is allowed.

The city’s share of gambling revenue will go toward historic preservation, and locals say they want to keep the old-time western atmosphere in and the glitz out of this gambling center.

″The fact that we’ve limited the bets to five dollars is going to be less intimidating to people,″ said Bill Walsh, a gambling supporter and owner of the Franklin Hotel. ″You can’t have a sign that says ‘casino.’ Traditionally, we called them poker rooms and gambling halls. There’ll be no blinking neon lights in Deadwood.

″There are very few towns in the United States that have that Western mystique,″ he said.

As Lien put it, ″We’ll never be a Las Vegas or an Atlantic City.″

Walsh said operators of large casinos are watching Deadwood with interest to see how the gambling venture fares.

″If we just imitate our past, we’ll be successful,″ he said. ″If we become more than that, sort of a Western Disneyland of gambling, there’ll be a lot of outside investors looking at us. There’s that big question mark out there right now. We just don’t know.″

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