Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Gambling was common in mining towns in South Dakota and Colorado during the late nineteenth century. Gambling, or gaming, reappeared in the Great Plains in response to antitaxation sentiments in the 1980s, when state, provincial, and local governments sought an alternative source of revenue. Many states and provinces began with lotteries to supplement their general revenue funds. Today, six Plains states (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas) and all three of the Prairie Provinces operate lotteries.

Following the adoption of state lotteries in the United States, local, tribal, and private interests turned toward gambling as well. In the late 1980s the city of Deadwood, South Dakota, looked to its colorful gambling history to revitalize its economy. The Deadwood You Bet Committee used the state's initiative process to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow gambling in Deadwood. To sell gambling as a revenue source, the Deadwood progambling movement focused on gambling's entertainment value and pledged any revenues to historic preservation. In 1988 64.3 percent of voters in South Dakota approved limited stakes gambling, and in November 1989 gaming began in Deadwood. Deadwood expected 100 new jobs and $2 million in bets in the first year. However, even with betting limits of $5, there were an estimated 1,183 new jobs and $93 million in bets generated during the first six months.

On the heels of Deadwood's revenue success, three historical mining communities in Colorado pushed for gaming. The Central City Preservation, Inc. Committee used Colorado's initiative process and won a constitutional amendment to allow limited stakes gaming in the cities of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. By 1995 Deadwood, Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek had forty-seven, nineteen, thirteen, and twentythree casinos, respectively. All four cities noted increased congestion and higher property values; the Colorado cities reported losing local services and local establishments to tourism development. One year into gaming in Colorado and three years into gaming in Deadwood, respondents to a survey in all four cities perceived the gaming industries as having an influence over local government greater than that of citizens. Only Deadwood respondents reported a significant increase in historic preservation efforts.

The gaming landscape of the Great Plains also includes at least twenty-two casinos (Class III gaming) on Indian reservations. Most of the tribal casinos are in South Dakota and North Dakota, with eight and six each, respectively. Tribal casinos closer to urban centers and those casinos that can draw visitors from nearby states where gaming is not legal have been particularly successful. For example, tribal gaming endeavors in western Iowa have benefited from tighter laws in Nebraska. Riverboat casinos in Sioux City and Council Bluffs, Iowa, as well as the pari-mutuel gaming and slots available in Council Bluffs have also gained. Riverboat casinos in St. Joseph and Kansas City, Missouri, also lure visitors from the population centers of Kansas City, Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Unlike the privately run casinos in the United States, gaming and casino operations in Canada fall to the provincial governments. Charitable gaming began in Canada in 1969, and in 1985 the provinces gained exclusive control over gaming. All three Prairie Provinces have lotto, video lottery, and Indian casinos. Manitoba and Saskatchewan also have government-operated casinos, and both Saskatchewan and Alberta have casinos run for charity. The widespread availability of gaming in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Montana, and North Dakota has discouraged the growth of gaming towns along the Canadian-U.S. international border.

The spatial distribution of gaming in the Great Plains ranges from an absence of casino and Class III tribal gaming in the Southern Plains to widespread gaming in the Northern Plains and Prairie Provinces. The difference in gaming availability between states as well as the location of population centers at the eastern periphery of the Plains have encouraged the growth of several gaming towns and attractions along state borders. Whether presented as a way to revive the past and preserve history, as a harmless form of entertainment, or as a way to generate revenue without additional taxation, gaming is changing the economic, political, social, and cultural landscapes of the Great Plains.

See also IMAGES AND ICONS: Deadwood, South Dakota.

Erin Hogan Fouberg Mary Washington College

Campbell, Colin S., and Garry J. Smith. "Canadian Gambling: Trends and Public Policy Issues.'' Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 556 (1998): 22–35. Fouberg, Erin Hogan. "South Dakota Gaming: A Regional Analysis." Great Plains Research 5 (1996): 179–212.

Long, Patrick T. "Early Impacts of Limited Stakes Casino Gambling on Rural Community Life." Tourism Management 17 (1996): 341–53.

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