Deadwood Gaming Improvements Needed to Attract More Players

December 31, 2014
Deadwood Gaming Improvements Needed to Attract More Players

This is the second of a two-part series.  The first column pertaining to non-gaming improvements may be found here

Deadwood leaders and operators have solicited ideas on how to improve the market.  The list below was created by combining my knowledge of Deadwood with my experience in the gaming industry.

There are several issues with the gaming spread in Deadwood.  If the town prefers to continue to use it as its main attraction, improvements must be made.

Video Poker Payouts Are Too Low

The video poker in Deadwood is terrible.  There are six machines at the Lodge at Deadwood that spread five games that return 98-99% to players, assuming perfect play and five coins wagered.  The best is Double Deuces Wild, returning 98.9% on five coins with perfect play.  This is a perfectly reasonable return for video poker.

These are the only machines in Deadwood that offer any pay tables returning 98% or higher, according to my research and  Most Las Vegas Strip casinos at least spread 8/5 Bonus Poker (99.17%). That game is better than anything available in Deadwood.

Many people will not bet five coins per hand and very few use perfect strategy.  This increases the hold by a couple of percentage points.

More than half of the video poker games I surveyed in Deadwood have returns of 95.5% or lower.  Some of the games are as low as 94%.  This is not much higher than the cap on video lottery payouts.

Most video poker players are oblivious to the fact that casinos offer different pay tables for video poker.   However, many will discover that their money does not last as long in Deadwood as it does in other markets.

It is time for someone to take the lead and spread full-pay games.  When that is accomplished, there is now a niche that can be marketed on TV in nearby markets and to players by direct mail.  I convinced an operator of this many years ago.  He liked the idea, but the slot vendor vetoed it.

There were issues with promotional abuse that caused some casinos to drop players club points on video poker machines.  At the same time, the pay tables were slashed, often to the lowest setting available on casino Game King software.  This was a massive overreaction.  Either remove the machines from point multipliers or lower the returns.  Don’t do both.

Add Niche Video Poker

Players can already find single-hand video poker on lottery machines throughout South Dakota.  Deadwood needs to expand video poker to lure more players away from the lottery terminals.

There were once 3, 5, and 10 play video poker machines.  One 10-play only had a nickel denomination and Jacks or Better was the only game available.  Another casino spread 3 and 5-play, but with a $1 minimum denomination and terrible pay tables.  These machines have since been retired.  Bring some back to the market with multiple, affordable denominations and 97-98% pay tables.

There is a single exotic video poker title that I recorded in my survey.  Consider adding Dream Card, Ultimate X, Super Times Pay, and Multi Strike.


The Celebrity Casino spreads the best blackjack game in Deadwood.  In fact, it would compete with the best games in Las Vegas.  There are two tables.  One is a double deck that allows players to double on any two cards and after splitting.  The dealer stands on all 17’s.  A four-deck game is also spread with the same rules.  The tables are staffed with quality, entertaining dealers and offer a $2 minimum bet.

The tables are only open on Friday and Saturday nights.  Regardless, I would put a big sign out in front that says “Best blackjack rules in Deadwood”, especially since the tables are buried in the back.  I lived there for five years and never knew they were there, much less how great the rules are.

The Lodge also spreads a good blackjack game with these same rules, but with six decks.  Otherwise, Deadwood blackjack games are below average compared to what one would find in other markets.  This is especially true for the double deck games where double down after splitting is not permitted, except at The Lodge, where only 10 and 11 may be doubled at the pitch tables.

The shoe games could be improved by adding surrender, something most players would use improperly anyway.  Resplitting aces would be another plus for players that would show goodwill but do little to hurt the house edge.

I noticed Blackjack War was a variant that is now live.  This is a great start.  Free Bet Blackjack would be another great addition.

The gaming commission should consider banning 6-5 blackjack games.  It is bad enough to short pay blackjack at a table.  The two casinos with 6-5 games also only allow double down on 10 and 11.  This should not be confused with the Saloon No.10 single deck that pays 3-2 with the same double down rules.  That is a great game to offer.


Poker in Deadwood is dying.  Some of the reason for the decline is the overall lower interest in poker in all markets.  In Deadwood’s case, some of it is self-inflicted.

The tables are populated by mostly locals during the off-season.  These players often do not have unlimited amounts of money or simply choose to play a set amount and leave if they bust.  The rake structure is not conducive to keeping these tables alive.

Three of the four Deadwood poker rooms rake 10% up to $5. Saloon No.10 is the only one that caps at $4.  Each room has a jackpot drop in addition to the house rake.  Considering the low stakes, this grinds down the chip stacks faster, which in turn breaks games due to the small player pool and lack of fresh money.

None of the $5 max rake poker rooms in Las Vegas are successful.  That is not a coincidence.

Another issue with the rake structure is that the rooms I have talked to will not lower the rake when the game becomes shorthanded, something that is standard in all other major markets.  This leaves players little incentive to help start games or keep them alive once players start to leave.

On the other hand, the 10% rake cap on tournaments is the best anywhere.  Las Vegas daily events tend to rake 25-35% from the prize pool.

There is also a gaming policy set by the commission that needs to be repealed.  In an attempt to prevent collusion, cell phones and tablets are not allowed at poker tables during play.  This was enacted in 2014.

I am not aware of any evidence that alleged colluding players were texting during hands.  The reports I hear from players had nothing to do with that.

This may seem like something that is not a big deal, but it runs contrary to what other poker rooms are doing and tourists will find this policy annoying.  It is one of the reasons I played very little poker while in Deadwood on my last trip.  The local players I talked to hate the rule.

Major poker rooms in Las Vegas and Atlantic City offer chargers at the table.  Players are encouraged to use electronic devices to play online poker at the same time as playing live.  The WSOP uses this as a marketing strategy.

Deadwood’s policy, as required by the gaming commission, goes the wrong direction.  There should be chargers at tables and players with electronic devices should feel welcomed, not dealt out because of a policy that does not prevent the issue it claims to resolve.

Craps and Roulette Ideas

Craps and roulette are coming to Deadwood on July 1, 2015.  While this is not likely to create a long term gaming boom, there will be some short term upside.  The approach by the casinos will decide whether gamblers return.

I hope that a casino decides to spread a single zero wheel. The game would still have a 2.7% hold and it would give the casino willing to try it an advantage over its competitors.  This would be a great perk to advertise when the new games are rolled out and casinos fight for market share.

Craps tables should spread higher than double odds.  Five times odds should be offered to have any hope of drawing serious players from other markets; otherwise only locals will be at the craps tables.

Pay triple on 12 on the Field.  Anyone that has ever played the game will immediately notice this ripoff if it pays double and the handle will suffer.  Las Vegas tables that only pay double on 12 get little Field action.

Video craps should be rolled out in the interim. The last video craps machine in Deadwood died about six years ago. Get a digital table in a casino and players will flock to it, building anticipation for the live game launch in July. It will also improve the knowledge level of players before the live games open, making the future tables move faster.  It could also be used to train potential dealers on the game.

Anyone wishing to discuss Deadwood in greater detail may contact me at [email protected] or @john_mehaffey on Twitter.

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