South Dakota: Innocuous, modest, lacking flashiness, keeps itself to itself – but you know what they say about the quiet ones. In terms of both betting and football, the reality is that South Dakota is something of a powerhouse among U.S. states: The tourist town Deadwood is one of the very few burgs in the world which boasts more slot machines than people, while South Dakota State University enjoys a popularity and individual success all out of proportion to its size.
South Dakota: Who knew?™ (If interested in purchasing said slogan for use by the South Dakota Tourism Board, please contact this website; we’ll sign if over cheap. Well, relatively cheap.)
Betting in South Dakota
In South Dakota, the history of gambling – likewise the state’s civic history itself – begins with a bang in the 19th century. When the mining rush and concomitant western expansion came to what are today North Dakota and South Dakota beginning in the 1840s, a general state of Wild West-like lawlessness was rapidly born and fostered. Towns such as Deadwood became a haven for purveyors of vice, legal or otherwise. One of these towns ultimately gained such a reputation so as to gain legendary status in American history: Deadwood. Visitations by the likes of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were relatively commonplace for Deadwood and became the stuff of HBO series…
After South Dakota won statehood in 1889, legislators reckoned the state needed a little respectability, illegalizing gambling in the fashion of most states entering the Union between the Civil War and the end of the 1800s. All lotteries and games of chance were immediately outlawed but, again copying state lawmakers in other parts of the U.S. before them, pari-mutuel betting at state race tracks was legalized in the 1930s.
Also a familiar story: In 1988, enactment of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that year gave the state’s Native Americans the right to establish bingo halls. That same year, South Dakota voters passed a referendum to allow gambling in good old Deadwood in hopes of providing some fiscal CPR to the local economy and draw more tourist dollars. While the original law called for a max bet of just $5 per game in the Deadwood casinos, this was raised to $100 in 2000 and $1,000 in 2014.
As for betting on football via the daily fantasy format, NFLbets’ll just pass along a rather interesting non-comment from then-state attorney general Marty Jackley in December 2017: “Based upon the current state of uncertainty, including the ongoing debate on whether daily fantasy sports wagering is predominately a permissive game of skill or an unlawful game of chance, it will not be my intent to seek felony indictments here in South Dakota absent a clear directive from our state legislature.” (Here’s to thinking Jackley himself plays DFS…)
Football in South Dakota
With no big cities to its credit – Sioux Falls (pop. approximately 172,000) ranks 143rd on the list of most populous states as of December 2018 – South Dakota’s NFL football fans have divided loyalties with regard to chosen team. The most popular pro teams in the state are Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos, with fandom pretty much geographically divided into eastern and western halves.
But the small population of South Dakota has nothing to do with this state’s apparent deep affection for the gridiron game: As of the 2018 season, some 57 South Dakotans have suited up to play NFL (or its precursors) football, including all-time greats such as Norm Van Brocklin, Jay Novacek and Adam Vinatieri.
Nine college-level football programs are currently fielding teams, with the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Jackrabbits the most prominent. SDSU football history goes back to 1889, and the Jackrabbits took home their first divisional title in 1922, their inaugural year playing within the North Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. SDSU ultimately bagged 14 NCIAC titles, including threepeats in 1953-55and 1961-63.
SDSU football enjoyed some success over the next 40 years or so before ascending to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 2004. The Jackrabbits’ best result in this modern era was their appearance in the FCS semi-finals in ’17.
As of the 2018 season kickoff, South Dakota State has produced some 34 NFL players, most notably Vinatieri and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Langer.
Betting on football in South Dakota
Despite the current relatively libertarian laws on the state’s books regarding betting, South Dakota may be considered a bit behind the curve on regulating/legalizing football betting in the state. Going into the 2018-19 legislative session, state law explicitly forbids sportsbook-style betting and thus would require tweaking.
Though no particularly strident pro-sports betting advocate has emerged from among South Dakota politicos, the possibilities for legalization are strong enough. Since casino gambling has been approved both on and off Native American land, over two dozen potential outlets for hosting sportsbooks (at least on a small scale, in the case of Deadwood) are already in place. On top of this, South Dakota has enjoyed something of a mini-boom based on the fracking industry, and history teaches that such periods are quite good for the gambling industry…