Territory Timeline ~ Custer leads expedition to the Black Hills
Pioneer celebrates Deadwood's reincarnation BY JACI CONRAD-PEARSON Black Hills Pioneer DEADWOOD - From triple digit in debt to triple 7s in Deadwood the city has seen a transformation in the wild and wooly former gold camp over the past 20 years. From its near-death, boarded-upstore-front-status immediately prior to the return of gaming, to a prime example of a successful community, the city has revived its self. With the return of open gaming, the life and vitality of the community has been rejuvenated. From the resulting funding for the refurbishment of its historical façades to improved infrastructure and the return of the town to a viable, community, the city's fathers have toiled together to nurture what has grown into even a stronger, more highly sought-after tourist destination. Over the next 10 months leading up to the 20 year anniversary of legalized gaming's return to the streets of Deadwood, the Black Hills Pioneer will celebrate the revival with a series entitled “Winning Big: 20 Years of Deadwood Gaming.” This series will publish the last Saturday of the month and feature tidbits and tell-alls from bygone eras, as well as taking on today's tough gaming issues. The lion's share of the credit and kudos go to the “Magnificent 7,” the members of the Deadwood You Bet Committee, who brought the cards, coins and slots back to the city at noon on Nov. 1, 1989. The return of gaming helped the city get back on its feet. Deadwood Mayor Francis Toscana put the plight of Deadwood just prior to legalized limited stakes gaming's rebirth in perspective at the recent Adams Museum & House and the Deadwood Historic Preservation Francis Toscana Commission's 2009 Preservation Thursday public forum series kick-off, entitled “20 Years of Gaming.” “I came back in 1975 and Deadwood was still a retail community, but it was a dying town, you could just tell. Must've been in 1986 or '87, I took a
walk down Main Street at around 6 p.m. and there was not a single car parked on Main Street. The Buffalo was closed for the winter, which was unheard of. Over in the Old Style, I could see just the bartender and I remember thinking, 'Spring can't come fast enough,'” Toscana remembers a city struggling to make ends meet. “We'd pay our bills with loans. The city was never flush. We'd get the bulk of our money from property taxes two times a year, two big checks, and use that to pay off the bank. Louie LaLonde Even if it hadn't been for gaming, Deadwood still wouldn't be what it was. The three-car dealerships, three shoe stores, Sears, Penneys, they wouldn't be here anyway,” Toscana said. Long-time Deadwood local Louie LaLonde, coowner of Saloon No. 10 and the chosen moderator for the series opener concurred. Immediately prior to gaming, Deadwood was dying. “Deadwood was crumbling. Its infrastructure was very weak, said LaLonde “Gaming has given Deadwood its second life.” By all accounts, the city's infrastructure is no longer crumbling, nor are its beautiful, unique and one-of-a-kind historic buildings. The last 20 years has seen the resurgence of not only gambling in the gulch, but a push to preserve the history the city hangs its hat on. Enter the Adams Museum & House and the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, which have also made significant monetary and social contributions over the last two decades in the way of preserving the history that the world cherishes in Deadwood. Because of this, it simply did not seem natural to proceed with such a historic undertaking without calling upon the expertise, resources and dedication of an integral establishment in the city, the Adams Museum & House. Together, Director Mary Kopco and her staff work diligently toward historic preservation and saving the riches of the city.
1874 ~ Gold Discovered in Deadwood Gulch & Black Hills Gold Rush begins!
~ Wild Bill shot ~ Black Hills Pioneer Newspaper starts publishing
~ W.E. Adams arrives in Deadwood
1877 ~ Harris Franklin establishes a liquor business in Deadwood
1878 ~ The Great Deadwood Fire destroys Main Street business district
‘You Bet’ - Deadwood's gamble that paid off !" J%C' C()*%+,P.%*/() !0a23 4i00s Pioneer DEADWOOD — When Deadwood You Bet committee chair Melodee Nelson led the charge to legalize gambling in Deadwood more than 20 years ago, she and her fellow committee members had no idea how it would succeed. Deadwood back then is best described as ready to bite the dust. Deadwood today is thriving and casino owners have hit the motherlode. “If we'd known back then that today we'd have this we'd probably all be lying around somewhere in the Bahamas right now,” Nelson said, motioning at the bright lights and machines lining the floors of the Gold Dust Casino and referring to skyrocketing land values. “I'm just kidding, but really, none of the committee saw this happening,” she said. “Originally, the idea was to have just a little bit of gambling to augment the history and tourism and to provide Deadwood with money to help with historic preservation.” “A few machines, a few table games. That's it. I suppose you could say we were pretty naïve.” Further, none of the committee realized what they were up against as far as time commitments once they became involved. “None of us realized it was going to be a three-year venture,” Nelson said. But once they took a gamble on Deadwood, they were hooked. The You Bet Committee was all in for this hand of high-stakes political poker.
Humble beginnings For Nelson, there was no turning back after she made her initial commitment to Tom Blair back in late 1986. “Tom Blair called and said that they were forming a group
to explore the possibility of legalizing gambling in Deadwood and at that time, we were just acquaintances,” Nelson said. “He knew that I was interested in local politics, as well as commu- Melodee Nelson, who was the chair of Deadwood's You nity involvement Bet Committee, said the group never dreamed how bright the lights on Main Street would be as a result of and he asked if I'd be interested their successful efforts to bring gaming back to Deadwood. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad-Pearson. in chairing the group.” The group started the ball rolling At that time, her busy life, conin 1987 and headed to Pierre. sisting of husband Tom and three “We went to the Legislative seschildren under the age of 5, was sion in 1987 to ask them to put it about to get a lot busier. on the ballot and it was close, but “Ben was a baby, A.J. was 2 1/2 didn't end up going through,” and Abby was 4 1/2,” Melodee Nelson said. said. “None of us knew what we But the Deadwood You Bet were in for. We were so grassroots Committee just wouldn't take no and so naïve, if we'd known what we were up against …” Continued on PAGE 20
Territory Timeline ~ First telephone lines installed
~ First electric lights turned on
~ Railroad arrives in Deadwood
~ WWI begins
~ Days of ‘76 begins
1923 Special THANK YOU to the Adams Museum for use of their historic photos and to the staff for lending us their time & talents.
Territory Timeline ~ Work on Mount Rushmore begins
1927 ~ Potato Creek Johnny finds nugget
1929 ~ Great Depression
~ WWII begins
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for an answer and in the coming year, the real work began. “I can remember coming back from that session and as the committee sat in my living room, Mary Dunne said 'This will be a piece of cake. We'll have this all wrapped up by Mother's Day,'” Nelson recalled, laughing at the memory. “Mother's Day came and went and we still had a huge number of signatures to get. But by then, we were into it. We knew we had to do it.” Because the legalization of gambling in Deadwood required a constitutional amendment, it had to be voted on statewide. It also had to be formally proposed one year before it could be placed on the ballot. The proposed amendment also required over 35,000 signatures, which entailed a major petition drive. “So, from November 1987 to November 1988, we were everywhere in South Dakota trying to get the approximately 36,000 signatures we needed to get it on the ballot. This was the most labor-intensive part,” Nelson said. “We had one year to campaign everywhere. In fact, we had one political strategist tell us early on that we could win all of West
River, but even if we only got half of East River, we'd still lose. So that's where we focused our time and our energy.”
Down to brass tacks Committee members spent a lot of time away from home that year, sacrificing the comforts of their familiar hometown setting in hopes of bringing a better alternative to Deadwood than what they saw as a slow, sure death. Nelson said she did what she had to do for the committee while balancing it with her family responsibilities. “Lots of times, I was just away,” she said. “Any place I could speak I did. Luncheons, meetings of various organizations, chambers of commerce, fairs, homecoming parades, any type of parades, anywhere there were big groups of people.” “We would take the Deadwood stagecoach to drive in the parades and we'd dress up in period costumes and throw the You Bet buttons. State Fair - we stood at the State Fair with our brochure.” But that was only the tip of the iceberg. This huge, concerted statewide effort took money, so at the same time the group was fish-
~ Burning of Deadwood’s Syndicate Block
1987 ~ GAMING BEGINS IN
FRIDAY & SATURDAY
1989 See our
Deadwood Winning Big video at
5 pm - Midnight
11 am - 5 pm Register at the Gold Club Center for the cash drawings & use your gold club card to qualify for hot seat drawings. Must be 21 & present to win!
For every 1000 points earned February 1st - 28th your name will be entered once to win the February truck. The more you play the more chances you have to win the truck. One Free automatic entry per Gold Club Member. Must be 21 & Present to Win.
ing for signatures, they were also fundraising. The committee took out a $50,000 loan that was finally paid off by the Deadwood Gaming Association a few years after gaming began. Their hard work paid off. The Election Night party in November 1988 was held at the Franklin Hotel and the group knew they'd won by the time the polls closed. “We saw that we'd won Minnehaha County and that's Sioux Falls, so we knew we were in,” Nelson said. “We only lost two counties in the entire state.” That was part one of the equation. Another concern of the committee and an integral part of securing gaming was the voice Deadwood citizens. Even though the amendment won statewide, the You Bet Committee wanted to ensure that Deadwood was down with the idea of gaming coming to town. “Even though the state voted gaming in, we felt that the citizens of Deadwood had a right to voice their opinions and we stipulated that it be voted in by 60 percent in order for gaming to come in,” Nelson said. “I was cautiously optimistic at that point and when we won that vote, it was a celebration.” That was in April 1989 and on Nov. 1, 1989, limited-stakes gaming was offered in Deadwood. Nelson remains proud of the efforts. “Everybody loves Deadwood. They see it as their playground. They saw us saving ourselves,” she said. “We said we were 'Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.' We weren't asking for a handout, and I think people appreciated that. “Everybody in the state, especially the small towns, could always understand what a town like Deadwood went through, with boarded-up locations up and down Main Street,” Nelson said.
Upping the ante Over the next 10 years, Nelson and the rest of the committee and community witnessed the historically significant story they gave life to unfold. They shared its troubles and triumphs, she said. “Like any brand-new industry, you go through growing pains,” Nelson said. “But after 20 years, we're getting more of a firm grip.” A decade later, Continued on PAGE 21
10 BIGGEST PAYOUT IN DEADWOOD! TH
$381,516.77 AT TIN LIZZIE ON A QUARTER MACHINE APRIL 7, 1996 The 10th biggest payout in Deadwood history, according to International Game Technology (IGT), was won on April 7, 1996 at Tin Lizzie on a quarter machine. The winning jackpot totaled $381,516.77. Tin Lizzie is one of several Deadwood casinos belonging to a town-wide progressive gaming network. The progressive jackpots for each game are linked. Any time a coin is played on a machine at any casino, the jackpot grows and continues to build until it is won.
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the desire to bring higher bet limits to Deadwood was the You Bet Committee's next challenge. “We were sitting around one night, talking about the possibilities and said, 'We did it once. Let's do it again,'” Nelson said. Because the proposed measure was an initiative and not an amendment, the group only required signatures from 5 percent of registered voters statewide, versus the 10 percent required for the rebirth of gaming. “Even so, it was still a daunting number,” Nelson said. “It was kind of like childbirth, you forget about it. Even though we all said we would never do it again, here we were. “But this time, it was much easier. We had the casinos to help with funding for the campaign, gaming was already established, Deadwood was more stable and people knew who we were,” she said. In November 2000, voters approved the initiative to increase the bet limits from $5 to $100 and the You Bet Committee
counted one more win toward its continued efforts to better Deadwood. “I think it's had a positive impact,” Nelson said. “It's opened the door to higher-denominational slots and it's allowed Deadwood to remain competitive with other gaming destinations. It's a positive perception that can be used as another marketing tool.”
Gaming's other benefits While she enjoys an occasional game of 21, Nelson really enjoys the offerings that have grown up in her hometown around the gaming industry. “Tom's cousins come to visit each year from out of state and we always go out one night,” she said. “But what I really enjoy about Deadwood is going out to eat, we have some wonderful restaurants. “I love the special events, I love Kool Deadwood Nites and was on the Deadwood Visitors Bureau when it started. I love the Days of '76 Rodeo. I love the parades. That's my thing. Without gaming, we wouldn't have all that,” Nelson said. Since gaming began, Melodee and Tom have racked up quite a resume, throwing themselves right into the midst of the gaming business. They've relied on the experience they gained as live-in managers of the Best Western Hotel, owned by Melodee's parents Kermit and Marlene Stell, until it was sold to Pat Roberts, Bob Blue and Ron Island in April 1991. Melodee stayed on to help with managerial duties of the property and when Roberts purchased the Super 8, she was transferred to that property as manager. In June 1992, Tom Tostrup, general manager of what was then called Cousin Jack's and is now known as the Mineral Palace, approached the Nelsons showing the interest the owners had in building a hotel. They wondered if Tom and Melodee were interested in partnering on that venture. “What we really brought to the table was our hotel knowledge,” Nelson said. We decided to
A "inta'e *and, drawn fro1 t*e 23ettin' on Deadwood5 display at t*e Ada1s Museu1. T*e >ard in t*e 1iddle is an anti?ue a>e. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad-Pearson.
do that and in March 1993 the Mineral Palace opened.” The Mineral Palace sold in April 2001. Melodee managed the Hampton Hotel from 2002-04. Tom stayed on at the Mineral Palace following the sale, performing several managerial duties and in February 2007, joined the Gold Dust and Four Aces as general manager. Tom Nelson, a Republican, has also found political success. He's in his second term as mayor of Lead and was elected to the state Senate in November.
Standing on 20 - years, that is A glimpse at the past reveals Melodee's fondest memory regarding gaming and the You Bet Committee. “The most exciting part of all of this was winning the state election. That was huge!” she said. “To think that in a three-year period, seven people from West River could make all of that happen …” Looking forward to her continued hopes and dreams for her hometown, Nelson revealed what she would like to see happen in the next 20 years. “I'm a hometown girl. I grew up here and Deadwood changed a lot from when I was young. It would've just died a terrible death without gaming,” she said. “When the Rushmore Mall opened up, people left to go shop there. That, along with the increased mobility of our society and a local loyalty factor that was gone, resulted in lots of boarded up storefronts up and down Main Street. “There are, of course, those who will say that you can't buy anything in Deadwood, but you wouldn't have been able to anyway,” Nelson said. One thing she is pleased with is an integral part of the You Bet Committee's original intent, the perpetuation of the historic preservation element. “The Deadwood I grew up in was very different from what it is today and change is hard for people. The question became, 'How can we save what we have?' I'm so proud the cobblestone streets are back,” she said. “That Deadwood is able to preserve its buildings. It has a wonderful look and it took lots of foresight to achieve that look. Historic preservation is sometimes tough, but that's OK. That's what keeps us going is our history. “It also gives us our ambiance and people like that. The Slime Plant will bring more entertainment and the Deadwood Lodge will hold lots more people, hopefully creating more of a convention destination for Deadwood,” Nelson said. “Deadwood was never intended to be a Las Vegas. However, we can still grow and still keep up with the trends. There's nothing wrong with that.”