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Deadwood group to ask lawmakers for sports betting amendment

November 14, 2018
FILE - This Feb. 21, 2012 file photo shows the Midnight Star Gaming Emporium in Deadwood, S.D. A Deadwood gambling industry group plans to ask state lawmakers for a 2020 ballot measure to bring legal sports betting to the historic mining town. The push comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in May cleared the way for all states to offer legal sports betting. So far, just five do, but Pennsylvania is about to join soon and others are considering it. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Four years after South Dakota enthusiastically voted to allow Deadwood casino patrons to play keno, craps and roulette, a gambling industry group plans to ask state lawmakers for a 2020 ballot measure to bring legal sports betting to the historic mining town.

The push comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in May cleared the way for all states to offer legal sports betting; so far, just five do, but Pennsylvania is about to join soon and others are considering it. The South Dakota constitutional amendment would help keep the Black Hills city competitive as a gambling destination, Deadwood Gaming Association executive director Mike Rodman said.

“We look at this as just another opportunity for marketing of Deadwood and keeping Deadwood successful,” Rodman said. “We just don’t want to be left behind, you know, we want to be a part of that national conversation.”

Known as the city where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down in 1876 while playing poker in a saloon, Deadwood got legalized gambling in 1989 that has helped it become a force in South Dakota’s major tourism industry. In 2017, visitor spending in the county that encompasses Deadwood — and other popular destinations — was $444 million, or nearly 30 percent of tourist spending in the Black Hills region, according to the state Department of Tourism.

But Deadwood’s casinos have struggled in recent years with declining revenues, though Rodman said operators hope to end 2018 with slight growth.

Rodman said an improving economy is likely the overriding factor in boosting revenue this year, but said the gaming industry isn’t letting up, continuing to add events and entertainment options for visitors. He said It’s difficult to know how sports wagering would affect Deadwood gambling revenues, which were roughly $100 million in 2017. He estimated it could bring in roughly $1.5 to $2 million.

Toby Keehn, owner of sports bar Mustang Sally’s, said the change would help in Deadwood’s off-season. He said he would like to see more people come to town on weekends to watch sports and put $20 on their favorite football team.

“You can roll a bowling ball down Main Street sometimes this time of year,” said Keehn, whose participation in sports wagering would depend on how the state taxed it.

Rodman said the gaming group envisions players would have to be physically at a casino to place a bet on a sporting event. The proposed constitutional amendment would give the Legislature the authority to implement the wagering in Deadwood and at tribal casinos. If it got voter’s blessing in 2020, Rodman anticipated it could be available by July 2021.

Rodman said sports betting is already happening illegally in South Dakota; the amendment would give the state the opportunity to “clean that up” and ensure that people who want to participate can do it in a safe, regulated manner, he said.

The Legislature can decide to place a constitutional change before voters or amendment supporters could collect thousands of signatures to put it on the ballot. In 2014, 57 percent of voters approved an amendment authorizing lawmakers to allow keno, craps and roulette in Deadwood.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said he opposes the plan set to be debated during the upcoming 2019 session. But he said the chamber’s Republican caucus hasn’t yet talked about it.

“I’m sure it’ll be a very heated discussion on it for sure,” Qualm said.

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