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Deadwood liquor sales bill upsets saloon owners

RAPID CITY (AP) — A bill in the South Dakota Legislature allowing hotel bars in the western gambling town of Deadwood to serve liquor 24 hours a day is drawing the ire of smaller saloon owners who say the measure would put them at a disadvantage.

The bill that passed the House late last week on a 36-33 vote would allow Deadwood bars in hotels with 10 or more rooms to serve liquor around the clock, to accommodate gamblers. Current state law restricts liquor sales to between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m., or 19 hours a day.

The proposal was generated by an alliance of casino hotels calling itself the Deadwood Resorts Association, the Rapid City Journal reported.

"We're presenting this as part of the different approaches to increase the interest, the enthusiasm about coming to Deadwood," lobbyist Roger Tellinghuisen said. "It's about making Deadwood a destination. We don't believe additional liquor sales, amounting to five more hours a day, will change people's perceptions of Deadwood, but it allows us to be competitive with other markets."

Saloon co-owner Louie Lalonde said the measure would give preferential treatment to casino resorts and devalue other businesses.

"This law should allow everyone to compete on a level playing field with the large casino resorts and it doesn't," he said. "It is being presented in a way that doesn't include everybody up and down the street. It worries me, with empty storefronts in Deadwood, that it would discourage people from investing in a business that didn't have that competitive edge."

The Senate State Affairs Committee is to consider the bill on Feb. 26.