DEADWOOD | Three decades after South Dakota voters approved legalized, limited-stakes gaming for a small Black Hills town in decline, it is relatively easy to sit back and laud its success in terms of revenue generation, historic preservation and tourism promotion.
But what if it had never happened?
Last week, as this once sleepy, slipping-into-oblivion tourist town marked 30 years of gaming, we asked some old-time Deadwoodians where the community would be today had it not been for the introduction of legalized gaming. Following are their responses:
At 63 years old, Trucano has lived in the same house on Upper Main Street for 38 years. His grandfather, Anthony George Trucano, started an amusement business dealing primarily in jukeboxes in 1935, which he passed on to his son, John, when he died in 1960. When John passed away in 1984, Mike Trucano quit his job as a bank auditor in Dallas and returned to Deadwood to take over the family business, which he ran until selling it in 2012. He was a member of the Deadwood You Bet Committee and today, he remains in business with interests in two hotels in town.
“We’d be a lot like Cottonwood. The town likely would have dried up with no interstate going through it and the Homestake Gold Mine closed. It would probably be a lot like so many small towns across this country in which the town’s major employer closed. When I grew up here, there were about 6,000 residents of Lead and 2,500-plus residents of Deadwood. Even today, there’s half that. People like me would have retired here and died here, but after we died, our kids would have all gone elsewhere to find employment. Deadwood once had four car dealerships — it was a car town way back then. People would come to town to buy a new automobile. But when the interstate was built, we lost those dealerships. Today, we’re healthy and our future looks bright and we’re about to open a great town square.”
David Ruth Jr.
Born and raised in Lead-Deadwood, Ruth is a fifth-generation resident of the Black Hills. He had served on the Deadwood City Commission for five years before Mayor Charles Turbiville died in late 2018, at which time Ruth was appointed to finish the mayor’s term. He was elected mayor in April. Ruth works as a table games manager at the Silverado-Franklin Historic Gaming Complex.
“Honestly, I’m not sure Deadwood would even still exist had it not been for gaming. The tourism industry and the town were struggling at the time gaming was introduced. I’m not sure we would have seen a series on HBO written by David Milch. Even had he written it, would there even be a Deadwood for people to come and visit? When people remember the closing of Homestake Gold Mine, it would have had an even bigger impact on Deadwood had it not been for gaming. Without gaming, we would obviously have been a small struggling community without an industry to support us.”
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Although he lives in Rapid City, Rodman has been connected to Deadwood’s gaming industry since April 1990, when he helped open the Silverado casino and served as its first general manager. For the last six years, he has been executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association, an organization representing the town’s gaming establishments.
“Thankfully, we will never have to know, but rather than paint a bleak picture of Deadwood without gaming, I have to believe given the foresight, tenacity and grit of the group of business and civic leaders that comprised the Deadwood You Bet Committee, that they would never have given up on devising an economic development/tourism growth plan that would have propelled Deadwood forward. Fortunately, their original plan for gaming tied to historic preservation was successful and now 30 years has brought almost $24 billion in gaming wagers, $2.2 billion in gaming revenues, and $371 million in gaming taxes.”
Blair and his wife, Linda, have lived in Deadwood for more than four decades. He served two three-year terms as mayor in the 1980s, and the couple co-owned the Deadwood Gulch Resort and established the Whistler Gulch Campground. Both were members of the Deadwood You Bet Committee that brought gaming to town. Today, the 73-year-old Blair remains active serving on the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission.
“Without the introduction of gaming, Deadwood would be a ghost town. I think we would have still had the Days of ’76 celebration and Mount Moriah Cemetery — those kind of things — but we wouldn’t have had the money to devote to the infrastructure of this community. Deadwood was a tourist town before gaming, but gaming just enhanced it.”
Among the most visible members of the Deadwood You Bet Committee and its lead spokesman, the 80-year-old Walsh and his wife, Jo Roebuck-Pearson, are the former majority owners of the Historic Franklin Hotel. They maintain a historic home in Deadwood and recently celebrated the birth of their first grandchild.
“Without gaming, we wouldn’t have had the money to restore our infrastructure, our historic Main Street and our historic residences. We’d have a lot of t-shirt shops, and I don’t think we would have had the money to restore all those wonderful buildings downtown. We ran on two things — restoring our historic properties and making Deadwood fun again. I don’t think Deadwood would have been near as fun without all that gaming has brought to our town, from conventions to entertainment and special events — all the things that make this place so special.”