DEADWOOD (AP) - South Dakota's gambling commission is looking into reports of cheating at poker tables in the western gambling town of Deadwood.

The state Commission on Gaming has received numerous informal complaints in the past couple of years of players working together in poker games to obtain the chips of opponents, Commissioner Dennis Duncan said.

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"There's a perception out there in the public that the games aren't on a level playing field," he said. "Sometimes perception becomes reality in certain people's minds, and I think that's the point where we're at. If there are 10 people talking about it, that's 10 people too many.

"The commission is here to ensure the integrity of those games for the public," he said.

The commission has approved hiring a consultant to look into the validity of the collusion claims and to provide recommendations to casinos on how to identify cheating at poker tables, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Commission Executive Secretary Larry Eliason in a Nov. 5 letter to several major casino owners said the commission was concerned that casino owners and managers "may not take this matter as seriously as does the commission."

"The Commission on Gaming staff is aware of concerns raised that a small group of poker players may be using unfair practices, including collusion, at poker tournaments in certain casinos in Deadwood," Eliason wrote. "In spite of the fact the commission staff has visited with the managers of some establishments on this matter collusive play continues to be a matter of active discussion."

Gambling advocates who attended a Wednesday meeting of the commission said they questioned the credibility of the claims, but they encouraged the commission to investigate the allegations.

"Deadwood poker, besides being a foundation of the Deadwood gaming industry, is the cornerstone of Deadwood's storied history," said Mike Rodman, executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association. "If there are patrons violating the intent of those rules outside of the operator's control, we would urge an investigation by the commission and if necessary, banning those individuals from gaming in Deadwood.

"The industry should not have its reputation tarnished by rumor, innuendo and disgruntled patrons' blogs," Rodman said. "We stand in full support of the commission's quest to put these rumors to rest."