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South Dakota Gambling

South Dakota

In both the past and the present, one name is associated with gambling in South Dakota: Deadwood. The small mining town was once a hotbed of illicit gaming back in the days of the Wild West gold rushes, and it has once again become the center of the industry in the modern era – in fact, it is the only location where casinos are now allowed, outside of Native American-owned resorts.

Unfortunately, the “anything goes” attitude of Deadwood doesn’t expand throughout the entire state. There hasn’t been much of a move to regulate online gambling here, though some officials have at least given it brief consideration. Still, given that even the limited casinos allowed here were based in historic traditions and an attempt to attract tourism, it’s unlikely that this attitude will change anytime soon.

Deadwood is Center of Activity

Before we talk about the casinos in South Dakota, there are a few other forms of gaming here that are worthy of note. There is parimutuel wagering on horse racing, and the state even hosts a limited schedule of races at the Brown County Fairgrounds and the Stanley County Fairgrounds each spring. Off-track betting is also available at many locations.

The state is also home to a fairly successful lottery. The lottery was approved by voters in a 1986 referendum, where about 60 percent of the vote went in favor of forming the government-operated game. By late 1987, the first instant scratch card games and daily and weekly drawing games were being sold, and (after a long legal process) eventually video lottery machines were also allowed.

Actually, South Dakota was the first state to authorize such games back in 1989, though there were several rounds of legal challenges and votes both in the legislature and among the general population before the games could be firmly established. Today, players can enjoy everything from these local games to national games such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

By far the most interesting story of gambling expansion here has to do with Deadwood. The town’s gambling heritage is the stuff of legend: there was even the famous HBO series that was set in the city’s rough and tumble period of the late 1800s.

But it had been more than a century after gambling had left the town, and by the 1980s, the area had struggled to find an economic base for many decades. That eventually led to a decision that would change the town forever: why not embrace its Wild West past rather than run away from it?

In 1989, gambling was legalized in Deadwood, as a way to improve upon the historical tourism already somewhat popular there. The ability to place bets immediately led to an explosion in visitation to the town, and eventually, more than 80 small-scale casinos were in operation there. At the time, the maximum bets for all games were limited to just $5.

Not surprisingly, this has changed somewhat dramatically over the years. First the bets were raised to a maximum of $100; by 2012, the upper limit had increased to $1,000, enough to ensure that virtually any visiting gambler could bet as much as they wanted to. In 2015, the range of games these venues could offer also expanded; while they were previously limited to slots, blackjack and poker, the new rules now allowed roulette games, craps and keno as well.

Other gaming is available at resorts run by several Native American tribes throughout the state. The government began agreeing to compacts with the tribes in 1993, and today there are 10 casinos operated by Indian groups here. These include resorts owned by several branches of the Sioux Tribes of North and South Dakota. The locations vary in size, but because of the many games offered in Deadwood, the tribes also have access to a full variety of casino options.

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No Signs of Online Regulation

It should be obvious that online gambling wouldn’t exactly be a natural fit for the “classic” Deadwood that South Dakota has worked hard to reproduce. That means that with the town being the main route through which gambling expansion has taken place, there has been little interest shown in promoting the regulation of Internet gaming.

What statements have been made in regards to online expansion haven’t exactly been promising. Some officials have suggested that not only would Internet betting not help Deadwood, it could actually take away from the tourism the town currently enjoys.

But even if the state won’t go as far as regulating the practice, there are still many people in the state who enjoy playing at web-based gaming sites. More than a few overseas operators regard South Dakota as a grey market, and offer their real money games here. With no laws on the books here that make it a criminal offense to play on these sites, many individuals play slots, poker, blackjack and other games online every day.

No Signs of Change on the Horizon

At the moment, there are no obvious changes being considered to South Dakota’s casino landscape. There’s always the possibility of more expansion in Deadwood, of course, but with the last round coming just in 2015, it will likely be some time before the town pushes for anything more.

In recent months, the only hot button issue seems to have been the same one seen across the country: the status of daily fantasy sports. In this state, Attorney General Marty Jackley has said that he wouldn’t be taking any action against the sites or those who play on them, unless the legislature passed a law that made it clear where the industry fits into the state’s legal framework. Meanwhile, Governor Dennis Daugaard has said that he believes DFS games constitute gambling – and since they aren’t licensed in the state, they should be considered illegal.

The online front appears to be just as quiet, at least for the moment. There is no movement towards regulation, and given the government’s commitment to protecting the land-based offerings here, it seems unlikely that this will become a priority for lawmakers anytime soon. In fact, the unique situation here likely makes South Dakota one of the least likely states to pursue Internet casino regulation in the next few years.


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