Just days after their counterparts in neighboring Wyoming opted to kill a sports betting bill, members of the South Dakota House of Representatives voted to let citizens decide.

In a full floor vote held on March 3, Senate Joint Resolution 501 – which adds a sports betting legalization referendum to this November’s ballot – received 36 “ayes” to 27 “nays.” That margin of victory might seem overwhelming at first glance, but based on South Dakota’s legislative procedure, SJR-501 ultimately secured passage by just a single vote.

South Dakota’s House of Representatives is made up of 70 members, with a majority of 36 from those elected – and not those present for the actual vote – required to legislatively refer an amendment to the state constitution. As the 36 to 27 tally suggests, seven state representatives were excused from the SJR-501 vote, so the resolution passed by the narrowest of margins.

In any event, SJR-501’s passage ensures South Dakota voters will have their say on any sports betting regulations to come. Should a majority of the electorate eventually support legal sports betting, the proverbial ball will be back in the state Legislature’s court to craft a regulatory framework for the new industry.

As state representative and SJR-501 sponsor Timothy Johns (R-31) told his colleagues during deliberations on the resolution lawmakers have a duty to let local voters decide the fate of sports betting in the state:

“At least give the voters of South Dakota a chance to weigh in on the question.”

SJR-501 was approved in a 24 to 10 vote by the full state Senate last month.

An identically worded resolution cleared the state Senate during the 2019 legislative session, but failed to garner the same level of support in the House as it did this time around.

South Dakota’s Lone Gambling-Legal City Could Add Sportsbooks

Aside from 11 tribally operated casinos located across the state, South Dakota’s commercial gambling industry is limited to the historically significant city of Deadwood.

And under the language included in SJR-501, the 22 casinos located in Deadwood – which would enjoy the bulk of financial benefits via tax revenue – would be permitted to operate sportsbooks:

“Further, it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law, roulette, keno, craps, wagering on sporting events, limited card games and slot machines within the city limits of Deadwood.

The entire net Municipal proceeds of such roulette, keno, craps, wagering on sporting events, card games, and slot machines shall be devoted to the Historic Restoration and Preservation of Deadwood.”

Fortunately for South Dakotans who don’t live in or near Deadwood, federal law ensures that the state’s 11 tribal casinos can offer all forms of gambling offered by commercial casinos.

Lawmakers on Both Sides State Their Sports Betting Case

Of the seven states which share a border with South Dakota, two have shown significant interest in legal sports betting.

Iowa launched its first regulated sportsbooks in August of last year, and last May, the Governor of Montana signed a bill into law which awaits implementation.

During deliberations on SJR-501, state representative Tom Pischke (R-25) directly referenced the Grand Falls Casino in Iowa – located just minutes from South Dakota’s southern border – as a direct competitor for local sports bettors:

“Literally thousands and thousands of dollars are going to another state.”

For his part, state representative John Mills (R-4) argued against legal sports betting’s placement on the November ballot:

“Haven’t we seen the damage that gambling does? We don’t have to tell them this is good for them.”


Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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