South Dakota voters tackle legalizing sports wagering

A screen shows college basketball odds on Jan. 30, 2020 at Grand Falls Resort and Casino in Larchwood, Iowa. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

MITCHELL, S.D. — South Dakotans' swing at legalizing sports wagering during the 2020 general election was looking promising on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The measure, which was brought forward by the South Dakota Legislature earlier this year to be put on the ballot, would make wagering on sporting events legal at casinos in Deadwood, S.D., and at nine tribal casinos around the state, but how exactly that would take place would be decided by legislators in 2021.

As of 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, the Yes vote for the change had received 58 percent of the vote, with the No vote at 42 percent, with the Yes side ahead by more than 47,000 votes with nearly half of the state's vote counted.

If approved, it would be the first expansion of gambling in South Dakota since 2014, when more than 56% of voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to allow roulette, keno and craps in Deadwood.

Aside from casinos, what sports wagering would look like in South Dakota would be up for debate with the Legislature in 2021, as that body will set the rules. It could authorize online wagering, as nearby Iowa has done, allowing bets to be placed through an app. It could also follow Montana, which has authorized sports betting through licensed establishments like South Dakota already does with video lottery. The Legislature could also place restrictions on what kinds of bets are accepted, such as restricting bets involving the state's collegiate teams.


Those two states, along with Colorado, were among those cited as nearby states that already have sports betting. Passing the measure would allow Deadwood and South Dakota to be on a level competitive playing field and would cut down on illegal sports betting already happening, according to proponents. Opponents said that adding sports betting would only expand the population of problem gamblers in South Dakota, which has 9,000 video lottery machines around the state.

Authorizing additional gambling in South Dakota requires a constitutional amendment, something the state did in 1989 to first allow Deadwood gambling. The state constitution currently authorizes the Legislature to allow certain types of gaming in Deadwood, including roulette, keno, craps, some card games and slot machines.

South Dakota is one of three states that has a legal sports betting measure on the ballot on Election Day. Maryland has a statewide measure under consideration, while Louisiana is considering the sports betting question on a local level, having all 64 parishes in the state consider allowing sports wagering.

A note from the South Dakota Legislative Research Council in December 2018 estimated that adjusted gross revenue for sports betting in South Dakota at just more than $2 million. South Dakota taxes Deadwood gaming at 9 percent, which is distributed between the state’s general fund, South Dakota’s tourism promotion efforts, Lawrence County, and the South Dakota Gaming Commission’s fund. The LRC’s note indicated that sports wagering would generate an estimated $184,678 in new tax revenue.

No estimation or explanation about tax revenues or costs were listed on the ballot for voters in this election.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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