Two bills that would let South Dakota voters decide on two key areas of gambling expansion advanced in the State Senate this week.

Yankton casino

Not his first rodeo: State Sen. Troy Heinert – who also happens to be a rodeo pickup rider and member of the Rosebud Sioux — believes the people should be allowed to decide whether they want sports betting. (Image: BlackNewsPortal)

Senate Joint Resolution 2 would establish a referendum to legalize sports betting at Deadwood casinos. It was approved by the Senate in a 18-14 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.

Meanwhile, a bill that would ask voters whether they want to break the Deadwood monopoly on gaming and authorize a casino in Yankton squeaked through the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday without a recommendation in a 5-4 vote.

It’s high season for sports betting bills in legislatures across the country, with lawmakers in more than two dozen states currently mulling the fiscal benefits, but there were questions in the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre about whether sports betting is the cash cow some lawmakers were making out to be.

No Cash Cow

As reported by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, State Sen. Jim Bolin (R-Canton) highlighted the Department of Revenue’s concern that sports betting would bring in less revenue than it would cost the state to regulate it. He called projected revenue for the state a “mirage.”

But Senate minority leader Troy Heinert (D-Mission) reminded the Senate that the resolution was not a legislative endorsement of sports betting, but rather a recognition that the people should be allowed to decide, as they did when they voted to legalize casino gaming in the 1980s.

Commercial gaming in the state is limited to Deadwood, but there are also 11 tribal casinos operated by seven federally recognized tribes. If approved by the House and then by state residents, the amendment would also indirectly authorize the tribes to offer sports betting because they are allowed to offer any form of gambling provided its legal anywhere else in the state under the terms of their compacts.

Yankton Casino Faces Tribal Opposition

But tribal operators told the Senate State Affairs Committee they were staunchly opposed to casino expansion in Yankton. The Yankton Sioux Tribe’s Fort Randall Casino currently employs 240 people and funds community programs on the tribes’ reservation. The tribe fears the extra competition in an already saturated market would lead to job losses.

But, as reported by the Argus Leader, it was a tribe that operates a casino just across the border, in Nebraska — the Santee Sioux– that made the trip to testify in front of the Senate committee.

“We’re facing 75 percent unemployment rates,” said Thelma Thomas, general manager of the Ohiya Casino and Resort. “Nobody was stepping forward to assist us so our families could be drawing a weekly paycheck. We created that.”

The casino is supported by Yankton Area Progressive Growth, which believes the casino can generate revenues to fund programs that will help military veterans in South Dakota. Meanwhile, Yankton officials said the project would boost tourism in the largely rural area.