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Legislature Makes English Official Language… at Deadwood Casinos

Zut alors! The South Dakota Legislature's Rules Review Committee has found a way to make English the official and exclusive language in a few dusky corners of our state: the Deadwood card tables. In its continuing response to allegations of high-stakes collusion among poker players, the state Gaming Commission got the Rules Review Committee to say that speaking anything other than English at Deadwood's poker tables is verboten.

I can't wait until some femme fatale enjoying a taco and champagne sneezes and the unlucky yutz next to her instinctively says, "Gesundheit!"

The mischief-maker in me wants to believe there's a court challenge coming: discrimination against Native Americans speaking Lakota, an Americans with Disabilities Act violation excluding folks who speak sign language, something. But the Gaming Commission's lawyer says the linguistic exclusion is kosher:

“The reason we can is because gaming is a suspect activity,” said Mike Shaw, the commission’s attorney. “It is not subject to the same protection that other activities are.”

Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said it would be unfair, for example, if two players spoke Lakota at the table and the other players didn’t.

“Same with any language; you could manipulate the game,” Bradford said.

After the meeting Eliason said the “English only” rule is not an attempt to create an official language.

“Its purpose is to prevent collusion among poker players,” he said. “It is the same reason that we prohibited texting and other forms of communication that other players can’t understand or hear or see” [Bob Mercer, "New Deadwood Card Game Rules: No Phones, and English Only," Rapid City Journal, 2014.07.09].

Mercer reports that Nevada and New Jersey have English-only rules like this. Most (but not all) online poker outfits have similar rules. Rules requiring that card players interact in a single common language and medium thus appear to be normal and court-challenge-proof. So all you linguists hoping to impress the ladies will have to save your French for the bar. Quel dommage! Un autre chocolat, mon petit chou?

(Oh yeah, and the new gaming rules ban using cell phones during the game, meaning Pat Powers will squeak again about texting freedom.)

Tangentially Related: Kevin Woster swings the baguette and dishes some French in his essay on Chad Haber.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.09

    If I'm correct in my interpretation of this new rule, I would have to assume that you can only cheat in English. This would also imply that only non-speaking English poker players are more likely to cheat. Stereotype comes to mind,

    Of course cheaters never use hand signals or other body motions to cheat. Did they outlaw scratching the right side of your nose when you pass the raise to a cohort?

  2. bearcreekbat 2014.07.09

    What about our SD Sioux Native American casinos. Could they restrict all speaking during poker games to Lakota, Dakota or Nakota? Or maybe the rule ought to be along the lines of what the Nebraska United States Federal District Judge Kopf (appointed by G.H. Bush) recently blogged to the SCOTUS, namely poker player must STFU!

  3. lesliengland 2014.07.09

    i have to say, zut alors is the funniest phrase i have reheard in years. please cory remind me where it first became a part of the popular zietgueist

  4. charlie5150 2014.07.09

    Poker is unique in casinos as the players play each other, there is no house edge. The house takes a cut of each pot for hosting, and players generally tip the dealer. Any sort of collusion among players does not affect the house cut until people stop playing due to suspect behavior in other players. This is more about making the table fair for everyone sitting at it, rather than any sort of discrimination. It's a game, there are rules.

  5. larry kurtz 2014.07.09

    You guys are funny: go into the Camel Rock Casino on the Tesuque Pueblo and there is an infinite combination of languages being spoken during a week's business.

    Deadwood's industry is dying: it's time people extract their heads and look for a new game.

  6. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.09

    I understand why they are doing that. Dealers evidently are English speakers. The only problem I see is with ASL and some speech impediments.

  7. Jane Leeves 2014.07.10

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  8. JeniW 2014.07.10

    English English, or American English?

  9. Nick Nemec 2014.07.10

    It doesn't take long for the spambots to be attracted to a few key words, moths to a flame.

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