SD voters could decide to add games in casinos

Nora Hertel, Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- South Dakota voters would be able to decide whether Deadwood casinos should be allowed to offer roulette, keno and craps under a proposed constitutional amendment that cleared a House committee on Wednesday.

The State Affairs Committee voted 10-1 for a measure that would put the proposal to a statewide vote on the November ballot.

Deadwood casinos now offer slot machines, poker and blackjack. If the Legislature decides to put the proposal on the ballot, voters would decide whether to expand the gaming options.

Supporters said the added games are needed so Deadwood can compete with casinos in other states, especially Colorado and Iowa. Tribal casinos can offer the same gambling permitted in Deadwood.

"This bill will help Deadwood, but it will also help the Native American casinos," Deadwood Mayor Chuck Turbiville said.

Supporters of the proposal said craps and roulette also attract younger players than current games do.

"Gamblers are picky people," said Seth Pearman, tribal attorney and lobbyist for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

Pearman said the tribe's casino, located in eastern South Dakota, has been heavily affected by gaming in other states.

The bill's only opponent, Dale Bartscher of Family Heritage Alliance, argued that gambling should not be expanded in South Dakota.

Bartscher said he is "deeply troubled by our state's dependency on predatory gaming revenues."

Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, a committee member, said Bartscher made some good points, but he believes the issue should be left up to voters. Gosch said amendments to the state constitution are difficult to pass, even without organized opposition.

House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff, of Yankton, said he voted against the proposal because he doesn't like how easy it is to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg, said it makes sense to add games to casinos in the historic Black Hills gambling town.

"It's a part of the community, the historic nature of Deadwood. Like anything it needs diversification." Cronin said.