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Deadwood Gambling Down: Smoking Ban, or National Trend?

As I catch up on news in my new local paper, I read that gambling revenue for July was down 4% from the amount from the same month last year. For 2011 so far, gambling revenue is down 6.7% compared to the same period in 2010.

For casual libertarians who fetishize cigarettes and slot machines as symbols of liberty rather than self-destruction, the tax numbers are proof that South Dakota voters were meatheads to approve an indoor smoking ban last year. I prefer to think folks are simply regaining some fiscal sense and realizing that they can get a surer return on their investment from an $11 parking pass at Mount Rushmore.

Consider this comment on alternative causes:

Timothy J. Brown, president and general manager of Deadwood Mountain Grand said that gaming numbers are trending down nationally, industry-wide.

"The down gaming numbers continue to be reflective of a sluggish economy," Brown said. "Atlantic City was down almost 7 percent last month, which is basically the story throughout the industry. That combined with the smoking ban are major contributors" [Jaci Conrad Pearson, "Gaming Numbers Down 4%," Black Hills Pioneer, 2011.08.26].

Check that: Atlantic City has a partial indoor smoking ban that is rarely enforced. Even with smoke still clouding it gaming halls, Atlantic City sees a greater decline in gambling revenue than South Dakota. The numbers suggest greater economic forces are dampening the gaming spirit (as well they ought when money is tight), yet Brown insists on asserting, not just without evidence but against the evidence he himself mentions, the industry line that we should blame our smoking ban for the decline.

The industry propaganda on smoking and gambling is much like the kerfufflery from Rep. Kristi Noem and other Republican corporate shills who claim that clean air regulations cost jobs and profits. They ignore the economic benefits of people breathing cleaner air, living healthier lives, missing less work, and requiring less health care.

Whether it's smoking or gambling, less money spent on addictive behavior is a good thing.


  1. Michael Black 2011.09.06

    Almost every state has tried to solve their budget problems by expanding gambling. Why would you need to travel to Deadwood or Atlantic City, when you can go down the street and get your fix?

    Horse racing is down too across the nation.

  2. Stan Gibilisco 2011.09.07

    My guess: Deadwood gambling is down mainly because fewer people are coming to town -- the recession and gas prices, you know. Most of the gambling is done by tourists, right? I can't gauge the effect of the smoking ban against the backdrop of the recession. The ban might have increased gambling revenues if not for the recession.

    The smoking ban killed my entrepreneurial dream of the one and only "Clean Air Casino." Now it'd have to do a complete one-eighty, get a waiver, and go by a name like "The Emphysema Emporium." Not worth dying for.

    Deadwood? A cannabis-friendly zone? I can see it now! It would end South Dakota's budget problems! Too good to be true. (I'd still never touch the stuff even if they sold it at the grocery. I get enough equations wrong in my writings, even when all three of my brain cells are operating at peak efficiency.)

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.09.08

    Stan, I hope we get the chance to test whether the smoking ban can increase revenues in a good economy. Still, I worry that there is something to the smoking-gambling connection... specifically that both addictive behaviors reinforce each other, that maybe letting people smoke induces them to keep pulling the lever or tapping the screen. And if that's the case, I dont mind hitting the brakes. Like your Emphysema Emporium, some business models aren't worth the costs.

    But I wonder: if there is a connection between smoking and gambling, would cannibas replicate that effect?

  4. larry kurtz 2011.09.08

    The Homestake is still dumping hot water into Whitewood Creek. Why is that water not growing something other than algae?

  5. Bill Fleming 2011.09.08

    I think there are still plenty of people going to Deadwood. They're just not gambling as much. It's time for Lead/Deadwood to become towns again, with other things to do besides put money in slot machines. I think some of the people up there get that.

  6. larry kurtz 2011.09.08

    Sitting at Pump House Coffee where oodles of fat white people are still milling about and spending money.

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