PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Was South Dakota’s stance of minimal state regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic effective?

Quick calculations using federal data on COVID-19 deaths point to an answer that’s somewhat akin to saying whether a glass was half-empty or half-full.

As of September 26, South Dakota had submitted death records to the National Center for Health Statistics showing 3,031 people died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in 2020. That accounted for 8.79% of the 34,492 total deaths reported from South Dakota for the same period.

Nationwide, data showed COVID-19 took 1,146,498 lives so far. That represented 9.31% of the 12,316,033 total deaths reported.

And so, when measured against the United States as a whole, South Dakota saw a lower percentage of deaths. If South Dakota matched the national rate of COVID-19 deaths, another 180 people would have died from it.

But, when South Dakota is compared to each of the six neighboring states, the answer changes. South Dakota’s 8.79% was the deadliest rate in the region, according to the data.

North Dakota was nearly as bad at 8.71% (2,605 / 29,922), and Iowa wasn’t far behind at 8.65% (10,888 / 125,878.)

Back a bit was Minnesota at 8.07% (15,231 / 188,826), followed by Montana 7.95% (3,527 / 44,377), Nebraska 7.89% (5,557 / 70,475) and Wyoming 7.05% (1,454 / 20,626.)

LOTTERY PRIZE POLICY CHANGING: The South Dakota Lottery Commission has okayed a somewhat significant change to how people redeem some of the prizes paid for winning scratch-off tickets.

Players will soon be able to redeem prizes ranging from $101 to $5,000 by scanning the ticket and electronically submitting claims on a form that includes their bank-account information.

Executive director Norm Lingle told the commission that the lottery’s main office in Pierre will receive an alert whenever a claim has been submitted. He said the prize will be paid by electronic transfer to the person’s bank account, subject to a background check on any outstanding debts owed to or through the government.

Lingle stressed that the change is intended is to better accommodate players. The lottery traditionally required winners to visit a redemption center in Pierre, Sioux Falls or Rapid City to claim prizes of $101 or more.

That meant highway time in most cases for people who don’t live in those areas. “Frankly we’re a big geographically situated state,” Lingle said. He acknowledged that people have been able to mail winning tickets to a redemption center, but they still tended to make the trip in person for fear that a winner could somehow be lost.

What won’t change is that players can continue to redeem prizes of $100 or less at local businesses who sell the tickets. “We don’t want to impact our retailers out there, our partners,” Lingle said.

IGT, which holds the state contract for providing much of the lottery’s technology, will be responsible for adding the scan-and-redeem feature to the system.

As part of the change, IGT received a longer contract that will now run into November 2031. The original contract that was signed in 2018 took effect in November 2019 and was scheduled to run into November 2026, but the deal also included eight one-year optional extensions.

The commission on Thursday accepted Lingle’s recommendation and extended the contract by five of those additional eight years, in exchange for IGT adding scan-and-redeem.

Commission member Jamie Huizenga of Pierre asked if the change to the different redemption method needs the Legislature’s approval. State lawmakers have previously refused to approve it. Replied Lingle: “We believe we have the authorization within existing statutes.” But, Lingle added, the administrative rules might need a “tweak” and that would require approval from the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee.

Commission member Joe Kafka asked how quickly the player would get the payment. “Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for you,” Lingle said. “I would certainly hope at the latest it would be overnight on a business day.” He added that a claim made on a weekend could require an additional day or two.

MOTOR VEHICLE MODERNIZATION: The South Dakota Lottery operates as part of the state Department of Revenue. One of the points that Revenue Secretary Michael Houdyshell covered during his briefing to the Lottery Commission last week was the department’s $25 million upgrade of its motor-vehicle registration system that Legislature authorized in March is now under way.

Houdyshell said his hope is that the vendor’s team will be on site in November or December and the new system will be in place by spring of 2025. One of Houdyshell’s goals is that the department has updated technology systems in place when he leaves.

CHANGING OFFICES: The state Board of Regents central office has a new attorney. Jon Kotilnek moved from a similar role with the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks. He’ll be paid $107,116.29 in the new post. He succeeds Nathan Lukkes, who was promoted earlier this year as the regents’ new executive director.

Lukkes by the way now makes $325,000. His predecessor, Brian Maher, was making $349,037 when he stepped down as his contract expired June 30. Maher started July 1 as Nebraska commissioner of education.

FACES AND PLACES: Governor Kristi Noem has been busy in recent weeks making appointments to state boards and commissions.

New appointments include Bob Ewing of Spearfish to the Minerals and Environment Board, succeeding the late Dennis Landguth of Rapid City; Jonathan Guenthner of Mitchell to the Housing Development Authority, succeeding Mark Puetz of Mitchell; John E. Taylor of Sioux Falls to the Aeronautics Commission, succeeding Dave Luers of Pierre; and Mark Millage of Sioux Falls to the Gaming Commission, succeeding Karl Fischer of Fort Pierre.

She also recently reappointed Richard Gustad Jr. of Platte to the Fire Marshal’s Advisory Board, Brian Sandvig of Milbank to the State Historical Society Board of Trustees, Tim Bjork of Rapid City to Water Management Board, Larry Nelson of Canton to the Transportation Commission, Tom Nelson of Spearfish and Travis Aslesen of Howard to the State Library Board, Jeff Erickson of Sioux Falls to the Banking Commission, Chris Houwman of Sioux Falls to the Workforce Development Council, Joe Kafka of Sioux Falls to the Lottery Commission, David Timpe of Hartford to the Health and Educational Facilities Authority, Mark Johnston of Sioux Falls to the Athletic Commission and Robert Huggins of Sioux Falls to the Aeronautics Commission.

Have a news item or story tip about South Dakota state government and politics? You can reach KELOLAND News reporter Bob Mercer in the Pierre bureau at 605-280-7580 or bmercer@keloland.com or through a direct-message on X (formerly Twitter) to @pierremercer.