When South Dakota voters approved limited-stakes gambling in Deadwood more than 25 years ago, the northern Black Hills became one of only a few in the nation offering legal card games and slot machines.
It caused a boom of betting.
But since then, video lottery has spread and casino-style gambling has expanded to other states and on Native American reservations, all of which cut into Deadwood revenues and raised questions about the future of gaming in the northern Black Hills town with a colorful place in history.
Executive Director of the Deadwood Gaming Association Mike Rodman is among those searching for answers.
"We really hope this is a turnaround year for us," Rodman said. "We've had a tough winter and we're hopeful that we're going to have a great summer."
Deadwood could use one. It's a lot harder these days to make a buck on betters in a town that 25 years ago offered an enticing new entertainment option.
"Deadwood was on the cutting edge, you know," Rodman said. "We were the third jurisdiction after Nevada and New Jersey. And then, of course, the rest of the country caught up and surpassed us. And there's gaming virtually everywhere."
State voters and the Legislature helped Deadwood keep pace by raising the initial $5 bet limit to $100 in 2000 and $1,000 in 2012. Now casinos are asking voters to allow them to add keno, craps and roulette to existing slot machines and table games.
"And so we're very hopeful the people of South Dakota will understand that Deadwood needs those games to be competitive, particularly with those states right around us that have those games, and bring some of those players back to Deadwood," Rodman said.
One of those games in particular appeals to New York resident Carol Pyne, who made her first trip to Deadwood this week.
She and her husband came to the Black Hills for the history and scenery, but love the gambling option, too. Carol said keno would make a future trip more fun.
"Well, Keno would definitely be, because when we go to Las Vegas we play live Keno," she says. "And we actually asked when we first came in. The first casino that we stopped at was Cadillac Jacks, and we asked them if they had live Keno.
And then they said. 'No, only the machine Keno.' So that would be a real plus for us."
According to Rodman, more games will mean new clientele and a surge in economic activity.
"We're seeing that for the younger people in particular, those games, particularly Roulette and Craps, are more popular than Poker," Rodman said. "And so we want to make sure that we have the games that the people want to play."
Some like the existing selection of games just fine, however. They include Pittsville, Wis., residents Dan and Claudia Hable, who have been coming to Deadwood for 22 years.
"We like slots, basically, slots. Just plain slots," Claudia says. "You know, it's just fun and exciting. You could spend a lot of money, depending on what your bet is. It's just a lot of fun."
They mix sight-seeing with gambling and love both. But they wonder if large casino developments, and particularly those outside the downtown area, threaten the heart of the gaming community and the smaller, traditional casinos they prefer.
"I really believe that unless you move it back to downtown Deadwood this town will die," Dan says. "I can't say it any better than that."
Rodman says the town won't die, but it will change.
"I think there's probably been some market share changes, and we do have a few closed store fronts right now. And we're looking to get those reopened," Rodman said. "And so I just think it's part of the natural evolution of the town."
If that evolution includes Keno, Roulette and Craps, they won't be limited to Deadwood. Gaming compacts stipulate that whatever games are available in Deadwood may also be offered at tribal casinos in the state. That's just fine with Rodman, who says Deadwood and tribal gaming support each other.
"Quite frankly, we're working with those casinos because they are having the same challenges that Deadwood has," he says. "And they are as excited about getting these games as we are."
They're ready to roll the dice on the future, if South Dakota voters approve.