One-cent bets bill passes Legislature, heads to governor

The cost of bets in South Dakota video lottery machines may be about to go down, though lawmakers are divided about whether the real cost to gamblers will go up.

The South Dakota House on Thursday approved a new one-cent bet denominations for video lottery machines. With the Senate’s early approval, the proposal now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for a signature or veto.

Gambling industry officials supported the bill, saying it would save them money because new games are produced with one-cent bets. Changing the programming to make the minimum bet five cents costs them time and money.

But many representatives voted against the proposal, saying it would make it easier for people to lose their money on video lottery.

“If I were designing these machines, I would find a way to make them more addictive, more fun and more likely to have you enjoy losing money,” said Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, predicting the one-cent bets would accomplish just that.

Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, said the effect of the bill would be that “instead of making granny take five hours to spend her Social Security check, it’ll take her 15.”

While supporters touted the roughly $2 billion video lottery has generated for South Dakota since being instituted, some opponents said that was precisely the problem. Because that revenue came from gambler losses, Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, said he had to vote no.

“My conscience forbids me from gaining something, especially monetarily, from something designed for them to lose,” Craig said.

Supporters accused these critics of missing the point, and urged them to vote on the bill and not on the bigger issue of video lottery.

“What we’re trying to do here is keep the games fresh and entertaining,” said Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, and a former member of the state Lottery Commission.

The bill wouldn’t make things worse for gambling addicts, said Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre.

“If this bill doesn’t pass today, people will still be losing their paychecks in these machines,” he said.

Also included in the bill, Senate Bill 52, is some legislative cleanup abolishing outdated language. 

After the debate, 39 representatives voted in favor of the one-cent bets, and 28 voted no. That’s over the simple majority the bill needed, sending it to Daugaard. The governor’s office has supported the bill as it has worked its way through the Legislature.