Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Deadwood photographed in 1912.
Deadwood photographed in 1912.
Library of Congress
June 22, 2017

IN HISTORY: Mayor and Lawrence County Commission Ban Gambling in Deadwood

In June 1905, the mayor of Deadwood and Lawrence County officials announced a gambling in Deadwood that would take effect in July, as reported by the New York Times. As noted by the Times, Deadwood without gambling was like “a river without water.”

Prior to the ban, approximately 70 gambling attendants throughout Deadwood earned a daily wage of $6. The City of Deadwood also lost out on a bit of revenue as a result of the ban, as it had assessed a $25 fine to each of about two dozen gambling houses.

The Pierre Capital Journal reported that many residents of the area were pleased with the gambling ban, but the Deadwood PIoneer-Times offered a conflicting viewpoint. The Pioneer-Times insisted that the gambling houses served as a means of entertainment for miners who had less than stellar lodging accommodations. The gambling houses offered the men a comfortable place to relax and have a drink after a long day.

Accounts of gambling arrests following the ban may indicate that the Pioneer-Times had it right. In October 1905, four men were arrested and charged with possession of gambling paraphernalia, including poker chips and roulette wheel.

Over 80 years later, voters in South Dakota approved gambling on a limited-stake basis in Deadwood. In 1989, casinos reopened in the town and $145 million in bets were made in the first eight months of operation. In 2000, South Dakota voters again approved of gambling in the city by increasing bet limits from $5 to $100. Roulette, keno and craps were approved for operation just four years later.

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