This is the first of a two-part series. The second article about improving Deadwood casino gaming may be found here.
Deadwood, South Dakota was the third jurisdiction to legalize casinos in the U.S. behind Nevada and Atlantic City. Gaming has been legal in Deadwood since 1989.
I spoke to many operators, employees, locals, and tourists on a recent trip to Deadwood. I considered most of the discussions to be off the record, but used them to form opinions on where Deadwood can improve.
This is meant to be constructive feedback on how to improve the market. The city has reached out to outside consultants for ideas. I was asked to fill out a survey earlier this year so I know leaders are looking for feedback and willing to take some constructive criticism.
The suggestions below are based on the non-gaming side of the town. Tomorrow’s column will dig into the issues facing the casino segment.
It is time to fix the parking situation. It is ridiculous that guests coming to spend money in Deadwood on gambling, dining, or shopping are forced to pay $5 to park. I am sure it raises some money for the city. How many people are so annoyed by the fees that they do not visit at all? File this under the penny wise, pound foolish department. Some casinos comp parking for players and hotel guests, but charging anyone to gamble is a bad business plan.
More parking around the southern end of Main Street is needed. The grocery store lot that sat empty for years was a missed opportunity to resolve that parking situation. When I lived near Deadwood, I would often park at hotels on the way in from Lead and take the Deadwood Trolley to Main Street in the summer due to the parking problems. I doubt many other people are that dedicated and simply don’t visit during the peak tourist season to avoid the hassle.
I noticed some improvement in the dining segment since my last visit. The Franklin opened a restaurant with a chef I would describe as a superstar. I know that will do well and hopefully will become a destination by itself.
More unique restaurants that may compel guests to visit from neighboring towns are needed. Thinking beyond steak would be a great idea. An Italian specialty dining option might do well.
More fast food options would also be great. A Subway or similar establishment on Main Street would likely be successful. I tried to open one myself there years ago but ran into problems and gave up.
A dining segment completely missing is a late night one. There is nowhere to eat when the bars close. The last restaurant I could find closed at 2am. If such a place exists, I did not find it. Something should at least be open on weekends until 4am.
The free Wild West shows on Main Street are great, but are not something that will draw repeat visitors. The Deadwood Mountain Grand’s concept of offering a theater with live entertainment is a step in the right direction. Every operator and employee that I talked to on Main Street spoke positively of the impact that property creates. More can be done.
Gulches of Fun offers some family activities. It is not well advertised on Main Street. I suspect most visitors don’t know it is even there. The same holds true for the indoor mini water park at The Lodge. Expanding on these concepts, or at least advertising what is already there, could have a positive impact.
Some mountain communities have turned weddings into an industry. Deadwood is perfect for these ceremonies and honeymoons. A Google search reveals two wedding chapels in or near Deadwood. No hotels advertise any sort of wedding or honeymoon packages that I could find. South Dakota issues marriage licenses with no hassle or waiting period. Take advantage of that.
Get Deadwood Characters on National TV
There is little doubt that the HBO series Deadwood gave the city a buzz in the mainstream during its run. I have met many people that had no idea that Deadwood even existed. Many think that it is a fictional town invented for the TV series. The word needs to get out that Deadwood is real.
An actor in the historical reenactments was one of the many locals I discussed the city with during my recent visit. He mentioned that he had been trying to find a sponsor for a trip to New York City so he could get on a morning show and promote the city.
This man would be a perfect representative for the city on such a segment. He seemed very confident that he could get on a show if he could get to New York. The casinos could chip in $100-$200 each and get him there. If this is not feasible, or if his placement on a morning show is too optimist, find another way to make this type of appearance happen to promote the city through a remote interview from a Rapid City TV studio. March or April would be a perfect time for this when families plan summer vacations.
Deadwood is a Destination for Everyone, But Not Well Advertised
Even those that prefer not to gamble will find plenty to do in and around Deadwood.
Deadwood is located in the Northern Black Hills. Mt. Rushmore is located in the Black Hills. Crazy Horse is, too.
There are a dozen small tourist towns in the Black Hills. Some have become virtual ghost towns that are still somewhat intact. These are great places to hike and explore.
The South Dakota Badlands are about an hour away from Deadwood. This is a unique landscape that can take a day to see by itself. There is a scenic loop and multiple hiking trails of differing length and difficulty.
Winter sports are available in the Northern Hills. There are two ski resorts and snowmobile trails in close proximity to Deadwood. The Mickelson Trail features 109 miles of trails on an abandoned railroad grade. Several ghost towns are along this route.
None of these items are heavily advertised. Less than half of the Deadwood resorts mention any of these outdoor activities on their websites. None mention them on the index page of the site as a reason to choose Deadwood over other destinations.
I lived about 30 miles from Deadwood for five years and know the city and its people well. I return for vacation once or twice a year because it is a fun and unique place to travel. I recommend everyone check out Deadwood and the surrounding area at least once.
The people in Deadwood make the town. The casino and hotel employees show a true South Dakota hospitality that few gaming towns offer.