The news last week that Kevin Costner's Midnight Star casino had suddenly closed in the heart of downtown Deadwood after 26 years generated headlines nationwide since it was owned by a movie star with wide name recognition.
It doesn’t mean, however, that Deadwood gaming can expect the same fate as Wild Bill Hickok, who was famously murdered in the historic mining town on Aug. 2, 1876, while playing poker at No. 10 Saloon and is buried alongside Calamity Jane at Mt. Moriah Cemetery.
There are those who might wonder, however, if the closure is a sign of the times or just a bump in the road for Deadwood gaming. It's probably a little of both.
In 1989, Deadwood joined Nevada and Atlantic City as the only places in the nation offering legalized gambling. Since then, the entire state has benefited as the millions of dollars collected there have been used for historic preservation grants, the state's tourism budget and for numerous projects in the town of around 1,300 people.
Today, however, the entertainment landscape has changed considerably. Gambling has become common nationwide with Native American casinos, online betting and games like Powerball that generate millions of dollars for states. South Dakota is among the states offering Powerball as well as video lottery and a long list of scratch ticket games.
But despite the explosion of gambling opportunities, Deadwood casinos still reported $99 million in adjusted gross revenue in 2016, according to the South Dakota Commission on Gaming. In March, bettors wagered $93.6 million in Deadwood. So even though there has been a decline in gaming revenue in Deadwood in the past year, a lot of money continues to change hands there.
Deadwood, a community that prides itself on its authentic Old West heritage, also has a few more cards to play in the tourism game.
It has restored Victorian facades, brick streets and period lighting throughout the community. The town has a new $6 million Days of ’76 Museum, featuring one of the most impressive carriage, wagon and stagecoach collections in the U.S. There is a new $7 million Deadwood Welcome Center and $3 million was spent for the restoration of Mt. Moriah Cemetery. The town simply screams of western history.
As result of these efforts and others and the natural splendor of the area that offers hiking, mountain biking, skiing and camping amenities, hotels have seen their occupancy rates increase while gambling receipts declined.
The closure of the Midnight Star is not the first disappointment Deadwood has experienced, nor will it be the last. It only proves that even star power can't ensure success in the volatile and now more competitive tourism and gaming industries. And while gaming was the economic engine that fueled Deadwood's modern-day renaissance, the community has shown vision by taking steps to diversify its attractions and economy.
History will show that it is far too early to bet against Deadwood.