The towns of Deadwood  and Lead  were long dependent on the mining industry for their survival. By the early 1900s, most of the gold mines in the region were closed or working on limited production schedules. During World War II, all gold mining was shut down temporarily under orders from the U.S. government and miners left to work in copper mines elsewhere, or enlisted to help in the war effort.
Mining resumed after the war, but both production and employment numbers continually declined. Deadwood’s population decreased from around 3,000 in 1960 to 1,800 by 1990. As the population shrank, local businesses were shuttered. In 1986, a community group called “Deadwood U Bet” was created, advocating small stakes gambling in Deadwood. The group was successful and in November 1989, small stakes gambling was legalized.
The community, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, was determined to use a portion of the revenue earned to save the historic structures in town. As a result of that commitment, most of the historic buildings in the community have been completely renovated. It is estimated that the legalization of gambling in the community created nearly 2,000 new jobs. Approximately 27 percent of the new jobs were held by residents of Lead, but the bulk of the benefit of the gambling initiative has gone to Deadwood.
The population decline continues in the county, however, with a decrease of 4.5 percent in the population from 2000 to 2008. However, with the tax revenue generated by the casinos, Deadwood has been able to save its historic buildings and work on establishing the town as a center of tourism. Lead has not yet found the key to economic growth, except as a bedroom services city for Deadwood.
Another new industry coming to the hills is scientific research. When the Homestake Mine , located in Lead, closed in 2002, the National Science Foundation selected the mine as the location for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Here, experiments in physics (dark matter) will be performed and the site will be a center for mining research, as well as research in geology and biology. The community and many surrounding communities are hoping this facility will pave the way for more science and research facilities in the future.