Backers of a casino and entertainment complex for Yankton are taking another attempt at a legislative route.
On Tuesday, legislation was introduced in Pierre to amend the state constitution and allocate a casino license for Port Yankton to be considered by the voters of South Dakota in the 2020 general election.
The Yankton Area Progressive Growth (YAPG) backed proposal will be heard by a committee yet to be determined.
YAPG CEO Nancy Wenande told the Press & Dakotan that the group has been weighing its options.
“The Port Yankton Committee has been working on this for quite a few months now,” she told the Press & Dakotan. “We’ve been very quiet as far as our conversations because we’ve really been analyzing where the funding would best meet the needs of the state of South Dakota. We wanted to listen to the governor’s address and see what some of her areas of interest were so that what we’re doing in Yankton can align with the goals of where we’re going statewide.”
She said that one area stood out from those observations.
“We’re proposing two-thirds of the funding go towards veteran’ services,” she said. “It really hits home because veterans are very important in Yankton — we’ve shown that time and time again — and it’s really important statewide.”
Wenande said the group hasn’t spoken with any specific veterans groups about what funding would look like, but said further allocations would largely be the responsibility of the Legislature itself.
“Essentially what would happen, should this be approved and be put on the ballot, is that it would give the Legislature in the 2020 session the opportunity to outline exactly where they would like to see that funding go within the array of services that are offered,” she said. “Some of it could be allocated to the veterans home out in Hot Springs. It could be allocated to the cemetery that’s proposed on the eastern side of South Dakota.”
The funds could also be utilized for helping veterans access services and mental health services.
Wenande said the remaining one-third of revenues from Port Yankton would hopefully be allocated back to southeast South Dakota.
“What we’re taking a look at is for that one-third to potentially be allocated through the Yankton Area Foundation since that’s an existing non-profit that already distributes funds to worthy entities through a grant process in the Yankton area,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that are still in conversation. Nothing has been decided yet.”
She added that this would help fulfill the original promise of Port Yankton to its home community.
“We just know that money coming back to Yankton really helps get Yankton what they’ve been looking for all along,” she said. “We want to be able to expand our retail. We want to be able to expand our restaurants. We want to be able to have a concert venue and host more conventions in town. This is an opportunity for Yankton to do that.”
The proposal has been before the state Legislature before.
Last year, the Senate Local Government Committee sent a resolution to get the measure on the 2018 ballot to the Senate without recommendation. Once on the Senate floor, the resolution failed due to an inability to open debate.
Wenande said that she believes giving more direction on where revenues will go could help the proposal in 2019.
“What has changed this year is we’re being more specific about where we’d like the funding to be allocated,” she said. “Last year we had proposed it going to the general fund. Based upon even some initiated measures that were on the last ballot, it was clear to us that was not a good (destination) for the funds.”
In light of the legislative defeat last year, YAPG had been gearing up for a petition drive in 2019 to place the issue on the ballot.
Wenande said this hasn’t necessarily been abandoned, but it’s worth looking at all options available to avoid unnecessary costs.
“The petition route is still an option should we not be successful at the Legislature,” she said. “We are prepared to move forward with that, if need be. Essentially, the cost of the petition route is incredibly expensive, and if we’re able to come up here to the Legislature and really promote to the legislators that allowing the voters of South Dakota to make the decision through legislative measures by adding this amendment to the 2020 ballot, it’s really the most cost-effective way to do that.”
Wenande was unable to state the costs of the petition process. However, YAPG would have to gather 33,921 valid signatures — 10 percent of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election — by November in order to get the issue on the 2020 ballot.
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