South Dakota Voters May Decide On Yankton Complex With Casino

Feb 1, 2018

Proposed rendering of Port Yankton
Credit Yankton Area Progressive Growth

Several South Dakota lawmakers want voters to decide on a Deadwood-style casino in the city limits of Yankton.

The Port Yankton proposal is a part of an economic development project for the city.

However, several tribes and the City of Deadwood oppose the idea.

Supporters are calling for a proposed casino and entertainment complex in Yankton. If approved by South Dakota lawmakers, a constitutional amendment to allow the casino will make the November ballot.

An economic development group out of Yankton says if passed, first year revenue would be around $35 million.

Former State Senator Bernie Hunhoff is a project supporter for the Port Yankton complex.

He says the city has great parks and the Missouri River, but are unable to capitalize on those attractions. Hunhoff says they’re hoping an entertainment center with a gaming component will help.

“When somebody from the entertainment industry in Iowa came to us and said, ‘What’re you guys doing? There’s a real niche here, a real market opportunity for Yankton. Especially with your National Parks and already the kind of visitation you’re getting, a real opportunity for Yankton. You guys are just sitting on your hands,’” Hunhoff says. “Well, we didn’t even know that market existed, but I guarantee the gaming industry and entertainment industry knew it all along. So, there’s a real financial opportunity not just for Yankton, but for the state of South Dakota.”

Hunhoff says they’re hoping to build the complex in the Gurney Seed and Nursery building, a 1000 square foot building from the 1890’s located between the river and downtown.

However, an unlikely coalition is opposed to the idea.

Those opponents say an additional casino would create market saturation around the tri-state area.

Jason Cook is the vice-chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. He says process for approving the casino should be fair.

“We’re not thinking of the little communities out casinos surround. They depend heavily on the impact of casino revenues. Our stores, our grocery stores, gas stations, jobs around there. I would just like the fair process.”

The process Cook is talking about is like what the city of Deadwood went through to legalize gambling.

When groups in Deadwood sought the green light for gambling, supporters had to collect around 27-thousand signature to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Mike Rodman is with the Deadwood Gaming Association. He says the process for Port Yankton should be similar to what the city went through

“In 1987, Deadwood approached this legislature and asked for a ballot measure to be put on the ballot. The legislature wisely told them, go out and get the signatures.”

Senate Joint Resolution 9 does not have a schedule hearing as of yet.