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Voters might be able to legalize sports betting across SD

The sports betting lounge at Tin Lizzie in Deadwood
Arielle Zionts
The sports betting lounge at Tin Lizzie in Deadwood.

South Dakota voters might be able to legalize mobile and internet-based sports betting across the state, not just in Deadwood casinos.

This could be "the largest expansion of gaming since the late 1980s when we got into the gaming business," said David Wiest, deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue.

The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted 5-4 on Tuesday to support a resolution to put the constitutional amendment question on the November 2020 ballot.

The amendment would allow electronic sports betting outside of Deadwood as long as it's conducted through servers within Deadwood casinos.

It would expand sports betting just two years after 58 percent of South Dakota voters approved the gambling option in Deadwood.

Economic, personal freedom

Legislators heard supportive testimony from the local and national sports betting industry, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and South Dakota Retailers Association.

The Midnight Star noted that other states, including neighboring Iowa and Wyoming, already offer statewide sports betting.

"We feel this resolution allows South Dakota to compete with these other markets," the Deadwood casino wrote in a statement.

Legislators noted that some South Dakotans already drive just across the state line to sit in a parking lot and place sports bets.

The tribe — which can create an agreement with the state to offer state gambling options — said it would be interested in offering sports betting.

Supportive legislators said people can already lose money through fantasy football and unregulated, illegal online betting.

They said it's better to offer a legal route that provides funding for addiction services and revenue for local and state government.

Legislators also said businesses should have the freedom to offer this service while individuals should have the choice to gamble — which comes with the personal responsibility to avoid negative consequences.

"Many things in our society come with social ill. There's a lot of things we're addicted to. Some we call illegal, some we don't call illegal," said Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron. "I think that restricting this sports betting because we are concerned about 2% of the population that can't handle it — I'm concerned more about the 98% of people who can and should have the freedom to do what they want to do."

'Social ills'

Opposition came from a lawmaker who represents Deadwood, the Department of Revenue, the Department of Social Services — which helps people with gambling addictions — and the Family Heritage Alliance, a socially conservative group based in Rapid City.

"Let's keep gambling limited to Deadwood. Keep it as a fun pastime not as an addiction," said Rep. Scott Odenbach, a Republican who represents the city.

"I think we really need to stop and think before we add another means of basically addictive gambling in this state for people to do in the back of gas stations and convenient stores while their families go without the money spent on this video lottery 2.0," he said.

Lara Ringling with DSS said gambling can lead to addiction, mental health issues, financial struggles and family problems.

"Research shows that the rate of gambling addicts doubles in populations that live within 10 miles of a casino," she said. "With mobile betting, everyone has access to betting regardless of the location."

"You can place a bet anywhere. Work, home, school, even at church," said David Wiest with the Department of Revenue. "So here's the point. Is that a good idea?"

He's worried statewide sports betting would make people less likely to visit the gaming and tourism destination of Deadwood.

Wiest also criticized the method of legalizing statewide sports betting.

He said supporters are "wanting to cut to the front of the line" by placing the amendment on the ballot through the legislative resolution rather than the more time-consuming process of collecting petition signatures.

Deadwood casinos opened their sportsbooks in September. More establishments are expected to offer sports betting and expand the leagues people can bet on.

People wagered $2.7 million on sports bets in Deadwood from September through December, according to the city's gaming association.

South Dakota saw record spending and revenue from all types of gambling and lotteries last year.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.