Since its legalization a decade ago, more than 30 businesses—including gas stations, groceries, and jewelry stores—have established some form of gambling along Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota, population 1,800.
The former Black Hills base of Wild Bill Hickok, who was fatally shot in 1876 while playing poker, is now a draw for tourists who gamble. But these days, Main Street visitors who may have had their fill of Big Jake's Card Room, Mustang Sally's, or the Wild West Winners Casino have another choice: Living Waters Church. While some of the nearby casinos paid $1 million for their sites, the independent congregation is meeting rent-free, thanks to the generosity of Sandra and Gary Cooper, who own the structure and attend Living Waters. Members meet in the former Pink Palace Gaming Hall.
While congregants are few, pastor Warren McElvaney, ordained with the Open Bible Standard Churches, makes sure coffee is available for drop-in visitors to the Friday-night Bible study and Sunday-morning service. Tour buses, often filled with senior citizens, regularly pull up next door, where actor Kevin Costner owns the Midnight Star Casino.
"This is a very hard place in which to minister," says McElvaney, 50. "It's an area of greed and lust." McElvaney says he understands gambling addiction. "I was an alcoholic and drug user," he says. "It's the same root craving."
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