Deadwood South Dakota Casino – Actor Kevin Costner is parting ways with his Midnight Star and restaurant in Deadwood, South Dakota, after 26 years in the business world. The gambling emporium on Main Street is just the latest casualty in the historic town.
Main Street in Deadwood is one more down after Kevin Costner closed the Midnight Star. (Image: South Dakota Department of Tourism)
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Costner opened the Midnight Star in 1991 after falling in love with Deadwood during his first visit in 1990 for the filming of Dances with Wolves. Throughout its own history, Midnight Star has housed notable holdovers from Costner’s storied film career.
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“When I opened the Midnight Star … it was because of my deep love for Deadwood and the Black Hills of South Dakota and their historical importance in our country’s story,” Costner told the Rapid City Journal. “So it is with a heavy heart that I must say that today the lights of the Midnight Star will go out for the last time.”
Established illegally on Indian land in 1876 during the Back Hills Gold Rush, one of Deadwood’s most notable events was the now infamous murder of Wild Bill Hickok, who was said to be playing poker and held two aces and two eights at the time known as the “dead man’s hand.”
Deadwood gambling revenue fell another 3.5 percent in 2017. Many have closed since 2008 as games and total attendance have declined.
Not unlike Atlantic City, where the economy collapsed during the U.S. recession and then struggled to recover in the wake of neighboring states turning to gambling to help revive tax revenue, Deadwood has struggled in recent years. The South Dakota town steeped in history no longer has the allure of s to bring tourists to the remote hills.
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“We look at Deadwood as an integrated destination that has all the components and gaming is just one of those components, although it’s an important one because it’s the economic engine for Deadwood,” Rodman told the Black Hills FOX affiliate said. “Historically, September has been a good month for Deadwood games when we have the empty nesters coming to visit.”
Deadwood legalized gambling in 1989, and it immediately brought new revenue to the town. Tourism experts believe Deadwood still needs to undergo a change to remarket itself to potential visitors.
“All destinations have to evolve over time, even those that want to stay the same,” Rosen College of Hospitality professor Alan Fyall told CNBC in 2015 about Deadwood’s struggles. “Changes can be very subtle and not necessarily expensive, but a destination brand ‘refresh’ helps maintain the status quo and attract new markets.” Costner’s Fuzzy Memory
Local media reports that the Midnight Star opened in 1991, two years after gaming was approved. But in depositions, Kevin Costner seems to remember opening up in 1989.
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But Costner first visited Deadwood while filming “Dances.” Production on the Best Picture Oscar winner took four months, from July 1989 to November. Costner, who not only acted but also directed the more than three-hour epic, presumably had little time to open a restaurant.
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This month, the historic town not only celebrates 20 years of legalized gambling, but also the economic rejuvenation that has come with it.
Before voters approved the change in the state constitution that allowed casinos to open in Deadwood, buildings around the city were crumbling and businesses were dying. Then most of Main Street was turned into casinos. Real estate started selling for much more than anyone thought.
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The entertainment industry has taken notice. Actor Kevin Costner bought a casino after making his hit movie, “Dances with Wolves,” in South Dakota. HBO created an award-winning series, “Deadwood,” which ran for three seasons and capitalized on the town’s infamous past. Characters in the show include Hickok, a real gunslinger who was killed in Deadwood during a poker game in 1876.
Today, Deadwood has about three dozen casinos, 3,500 slots machines and about 100 card tables, according to the state Gaming Commission. Over the years, the casino industry has brought 2,000 jobs, millions of dollars in profits and money for extensive renovations to Deadwood’s buildings and infrastructure.
Nestled in a canyon between pine-covered mountains, the town is close enough for visitors to Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and Sturgis to include on their itinerary, so it also benefits from regional tourism. Forbes Traveler magazine recently placed Deadwood on its list of “America’s Most Beautiful Towns” in a feature posted on its website, citing its historic architecture and scenic Black Hills setting.
The latest new local attraction is a new $47 million resort, The Lodge at Deadwood. It includes a four-story hotel, convention center, water park, restaurant, bar and casino. The hotel, water park and bar opened November 6, and the casino and restaurant will be ready in early December.
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Still, Deadwood has to keep an eye on the competition for gamblers. Deadwood was only the third place in the country to legalize gambling in 1989. Nevada did so in 1931 and Atlantic City casinos opened in 1978. But now most states have casinos, including Colorado, where casinos were allowed to add craps and roulette in July.
Deadwood’s casinos are only allowed to offer slot machines and card games, including blackjack and poker, and bets in South Dakota cannot exceed $100.
State Sen. Tom Nelson, a member of the committee that won approval for legalized gambling two decades ago, said the gambling industry could eventually ask to add craps and roulette in Deadwood. But he said supporters likely won’t push the idea in next year’s legislative session because lawmakers will be working primarily to balance the state budget while revenues fall.
Markus Volimas, who plays Wild Bill Hickok in daily reenactments, shows off his guns as he stands outside Saloon #10 on Main Street in Deadwood, S.D. Doug Dreyer / AP
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“They might ask the Legislature to put it on the general election ballot, but I think that might be a little premature,” said Nelson, general manager of the Gold Dust casino and mayor of the nearby city of Lead.
Ken Gienger, president of the Deadwood Gaming Association and general manager of the Celebrity Hotel, says the industry is not yet ready to ask state voters for changes.
Meanwhile, Deadwood is working to attract more visitors by offering musical acts and other entertainment, Nelson said. The new convention center and the conversion of an old building into an entertainment venue will allow for events during the colder months. The town now has outdoor music concerts in the summer.
Through June 30, the end of the last fiscal year, gamblers wagered more than $12.7 billion in the Deadwood casinos. They won back nearly $11.6 billion, leaving more than $1.1 billion in gross revenue for the casinos, said Larry Eliason, executive director of the South Dakota Gaming Commission.
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Over two decades, the casinos paid $208 million in taxes and fees. Some of those taxes went to state coffers, while the city of Deadwood got more than $123 million for local improvements.
Nelson said Deadwood attracted visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day and sometimes for ski season if enough snow fell. The Mystic Miner Ski Resort at Deer Mountain and the Terry Peak Ski Area are nearby, along with 325 miles of snowmobile trails in the Black Hills.
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