Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Did we South Dakotans really, truly know what we were doing when we entered voting booths last November to cast ballots in the general election?

The battle that ensued for nearly a month between Al and George W. after the polls closed makes it easy to lose focus on all the other things that will happen because of the decisions we made.

By about a 10,000 vote margin, South Dakotans approved Initiated Measure 1. The measure raises the maximum bet limit for limited card games and slot machines authorized within the city of Deadwood from $5 to $100.

No doubt about it � that's a substantial increase.

Proponents of the measure argued that the bet limits needed to be increased in Deadwood to give the city the ability to compete with other states and gaming jurisdictions that enjoy substantially higher maximum bet limits.

These were sound arguments, evidently, to the majority of South Dakotans who cast ballots last November. The initiated measure, no doubt, was a successful attempt to make the gaming industry in Deadwood more competitive.

But, we wonder, are the new bet limits out of sync with state law?

A press release that we received from the governor's office this week notes that the city of Deadwood's gaming taxes passed the $6.8 million mark for the first time last year, bringing a small windfall for the other communities in Lawrence County.

For the first time, the press release states, other cities and schools in that county will share in some of the proceeds from Deadwood gaming, as a result of a state law passed in 1995 by the South Dakota Legislature.

The amount to be distributed is just under $127,500. About $90,000 of that amount will go to the state's general fund. The city of Deadwood, school districts located in whole or in part of Lawrence County, and municipalities in Lawrence County except Deadwood will each receive $12,743.78

The proceeds from Deadwood gaming taxes are distributed under a two-step formula. The first step calls for 40 percent to the state Tourism Department, 10 percent to Lawrence County, whatever amount is necessary to cover the expenses of the gaming commission, $100,000 to the state historical preservation loan and grant fund, and remainder to the city of Deadwood.

When the city of Deadwood's share reaches $6.8 million, then any remaining funds are distributed as follows: 70 percent to the state's general fund, 10 percent to the municipalities in Lawrence County, excluding Deadwood, on a per-population basis, 10 percent to the school districts in or partially in Lawrence County, on a per-student basis, and 10 percent to the city of Deadwood.

We believe it's safe to bet that Deadwood will easily be breaking that $6.8 million amount that allows the above distribution formula to kick in. That benchmark was set by the Legislature in 1995, when the betting limit was only $5.

Now that the limit has been raised to $100, my how things have changed.

In the spirit of fair play, that the distribution formula should be tinkered with a bit, so that more South Dakotans benefit from the higher bet limits.

After all, it was South Dakotans who gave their blessings to the bet limit increase.

Think back a few years, when South Dakotans initially approved gambling in Deadwood. It was argued then that gaming funds were needed for historic preservation and to boost the tourism industry in the Black Hills.

Keep focused on those arguments, and soon the first step of the distribution formula, outlined above, seems a bit out of place with the change in the betting limits.

It appears that if nothing is changed, even with the higher bet limits, the state historical preservation loan and grant fund will only be receiving $100,000 annually.

With bet limits being 20 times greater, we believe the state Legislature can safely adjust the distribution formula to allocate more toward historic preservation, tourism, and the state general fund.

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