The Rise and Fall of Deadwood Poker

Poker boomed in Deadwood in the late 2000’s. There were six poker rooms in town that spread a combined 31 tables in 2007, according to the South Dakota Department of Revenue. Rake totaled $1.93 million that year, a record in Deadwood. Rake dropped year-over-year in all but two years since.

Four tables disappeared in 2008. It fell below 20 in 2012. Rake dropped to $1.16 million in 2018 with the table count down to 17.

During that time, two poker rooms closed. Lucky Nugget, which opened with 15 tables in 2006 and downsized to 10 by the end, shuttered its poker room in 2010. The two-table poker room at Gold Dust joined it. During that same time, the number of tables at Saloon No. 10 dropped to two.

The COVID-19 pandemic finished off two more Deadwood poker rooms. The Lodge announced that its poker room would not be returning. It was replaced with slot machines. That took five tables out of the market.

The Silverado has not officially closed its five-table poker room permanently. Its status is considered temporary by casino management. However, a spokesperson with the company acknowledged that a permanent closure is possible. There is buzz in town that it will become a sportsbook if South Dakota voters approve it in November.

These two closures took 10 tables out of the Deadwood poker scene. That leaves eight in town. There are two at Saloon No. 10 and six at Cadillac Jack’s.

Issues that led to live poker decline in Deadwood

There were multiple issues that led to the decline of live poker on Deadwood. The first, and perhaps largest, is the overall drop in poker interest across the country. Poker rooms across the country have shuttered or shed tables. However, not on the percentage seen in Deadwood.

Another factor is the Lucky Nugget effect. That poker room opened in Deadwood in 2007. It brought 15 poker tables to the market, nearly doubling it. Its rake was capped at $4 when the other poker rooms in town were all still at $3. Within a couple of years, all Deadwood poker rooms matched Lucky Nugget’s $4 rake cap. Lucky Nugget downsized its poker room before completely closing the property in 2010.

That was not the last rake increase. Within a few years, all Deadwood poker rooms raised the rake cap to $5 plus a jackpot drop.

A high rake in Deadwood poker games is problematic. Most of these games are in lower limits. Taking $5 plus a jackpot dollar out of pots is a bankroll killer. The house was winning too much money from players to sustain the games.

There was also the problem with jackpot funds holding hundreds of thousands of dollars across town. The Deadwood poker economy is not strong enough to have that kind of money disappear from it and be eventually awarded to a handful of players.

In 2013, longtime Deadwood players complained to gaming regulators about collusion in certain poker tournaments. I always felt the structures in these events were poorly thought out and encouraged team behavior.  Little ever came out of those accusations, except policies that turned players off, like not being permitted to hold a cell phone at the table. This includes after folding a hand.

The problematic tournament structures were permitted to continue, including ones where regular players were given free entry into events without the house putting enough money into the prize pool to cover it. This eventually stopped, and the poker room involved is now closed.

COVID-19 killed two of Deadwood’s last four poker rooms. It is possible that poker could tick back up some in Deadwood from this bottom. It is unlikely to shrink anymore. However, the days of poker tables spread throughout Main Street casinos will likely never return.

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