South Dakota ready to bet

If you’ve never been to South Dakota, you’re liable to hear “Deadwood” and think of the mid-2000s HBO series set in the 19th century American West.

Nowadays, the real-life, 1,300-person town of Deadwood, nestled in the Black Hills and about 45 minutes from Rapid City, is the wagering hamlet of the Mount Rushmore State. And officials there are gleeful at the opportunity to join the nation’s modern push into sports wagering.

South Dakota voters last week in their 2020 election approved Amendment B, which would legalize sports wagering in addition to card games, roulette and slot machines at its casinos. A rules set must be approved by the state legislature before being enacted, and the target date for implementation is July 1, according to Deadwood Gaming Association executive director Mike Rodman.

He said drafts are in the works and will be ready for immediate consideration come January, when the next legislative session in the state begins.

“Our customers have been asking for sports wagering for a long time, and we’re excited that we’re going to soon be able to provide that for them,” he said.

Those questions had come in the aftermath of the landmark PASPA decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 that has since allowed sports wagering to be an issue left to individual states, and more than two years of hard work is paying off.

The entire state of South Dakota comprises just short of 900,000 residents, so overall financial windfalls will come secondary to providing the services themselves and the nature of being up-to-date in the gaming industry. But Rodman said studies have shown estimations of up to $22.1 million in overall, gaming impact for the state, including a $6 million structure for sports betting.

Already, he said, multiple facilities are considering brick-and-mortar sportsbook options, and several mainstream gaming operators have inquired about partnerships in the state.

“This enhances Deadwood as a destination, not only generating revenues from sportsbooks, but also additional gaming revenue, plus hotels, food and beverage,” Rodman said.

Whether mobile wagering will be allowed from the outset is less clear, although Rodman said he believes the legislature will “take a hard look” at the idea. The state’s largest city, 180,000-person Sioux Falls, is 5 1/2 hours away from Deadwood. And eastern South Dakotans have seen the relative success that neighboring state Iowa has had in implementing sports wagering over the past 15 months.

“I think Iowa was a big part of (why the measure passed),” Rodman said. “They saw Iowa come on board, saw how well it worked. South Dakotans were going across the border to place legal wagers and were seeing the kinds of revenues that were coming from Iowa.”

The Hawkeye State has long been a beneficiary of such border travel, including to a greater degree from Nebraska residents crossing the Missouri River from Omaha into nearby Council Bluffs. But the future of those treks is on the mind of Iowa gaming officials after voters in the Cornhusker State approved a trio of initiatives that will allow casino gaming — games of chance — at the state’s racetracks.

Most of the racing activity had been defunct on a major level in the state for the better part of 25 years, and Nebraskans hadn’t even voted on the matter in more than 15. But with the passages of Initiatives 429-431, a half-dozen licensed tracks will be eligible for casino gaming.

Will that soon mean sports wagering, too? Initially, not likely, given the emphasis on games of chance and the industry’s regular classification as a game of skill. However, the foundation to expand gaming in future years could be laid with this first development.

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Folks in Iowa are noticing. Iowa Gaming Association president and CEO Wes Ehrecke said the Nebraska decision will be among the topics he discusses with his 19 member casinos at their next meeting later this month. There are three IGA member casinos in Council Bluffs (along with a tribal casino) that in non-pandemic years have accounted for about 20% of the state’s overall gaming revenue, which contributes to state infrastructure and philanthropic funds.

“It’s certainly a significant moment since we have that base of customers,” Ehrecke said. “We’re not sure of the extent (the passage will eventually have on Iowa gaming), but it’s considerable,

“We’re going to have to think about whether customers will still come if they’ve established a pretty good base with us, or is it more about convenience and would they go to a casino nearby? We need to have these conversations.”

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