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MERCER: Lawmakers mixed on more gambling

PIERRE -- The Legislature drew the line against video lottery during the 2014 session. Lawmakers didn’t give Deadwood much, either.

The only action that made it through was a proposed constitutional amendment. South Dakota voters will decide in November whether craps, roulette and keno should be allowed in Deadwood. Those games are an expansion of legal gambling. Because they require people to run them, however, it’s difficult to predict how many Deadwood establishments will offer them.

They’ll also become legal at tribal casinos across South Dakota if voters approve the additional games for Deadwood.

Legislators didn’t look kindly at any other expansions of gambling or related activities.

Deadwood hotels won’t get round-the-clock alcohol sales and consumption in their casinos, for example. Deadwood also won’t get to charge another $1 per room of occupancy tax while the rest of South Dakota is $2. The Senate killed the 24-hour booze bill that Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, wedged through the House of Representatives without a spare vote. Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the Deadwood-dollar bill from Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish.

The governor’s support didn’t seem to help two video-lottery bills that were goals of the South Dakota Lottery Commission. One would have increased the bet limit to $5 per play. The House killed that. Another would have allowed video lottery establishments to have up to 15 terminals, provided that numbers 11 through 15 used new technology. The House killed that one, too.

Consequently, video lottery remains as it has always been: $2 maximum bet, 10 machines per establishment.

Legalized gambling seems to be at a balance point in South Dakota. It’s not going away, but it’s not going to get much bigger.

Since the 1986 amendment that changed the South Dakota Constitution to allow lottery, voters have been on the side of gambling all but once. That defeat came in 1993 regarding more machines and a higher bet limit in Deadwood.

Since then businesses in Deadwood have found creative ways to get around the restriction of 30 devices per building. The Deadwood bet limit has been raised, twice, and now stands at $1,000.

Deadwood’s better acceptance among the public puzzles lottery commissioners and people from video lottery businesses. They spent many hours last year working ideas to get people to play more.

On the other hand, video lottery has survived every time it was put to a statewide vote. The Lottery Commission meets today. There could be a study in the months ahead on gambling problems in South Dakota. Lottery officials discussed the idea with legislators recently as they tried to increase support.

The Commission on Gaming that oversees Deadwood wants to stay clear of video lottery, however.

“I’m really uncomfortable with us being tied in with them,” Gaming Commission member Harry Christianson of Rapid City said at a meeting recently.

He acknowledged he was an owner of video lottery casinos earlier in his life.

“As well we should,” Chip Kemnitz of Philip, the Gaming Commission’s chairman, said in agreeing with Christianson. “It seems like two different houses to me.”