Ozarks Casino Effort Continues to Rally Support in Missouri

Posted on: December 19, 2023, 10:31h. 

Last updated on: December 19, 2023, 11:38h.

An effort to bring a commercial casino to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri continues to gain support from local and state officials.

Ozarks casino Missouri gaming referendum
The odds of a casino coming to the Lake of the Ozarks are presumably shortening. That’s after the development group this week gained additional local support for the project. Before a casino can come to the region, Missouri voters must amend their state constitution to allow casino gaming along the Osage River. (Image: iStock)

This week, the Miller County Commission, which represents the eastern side of the Ozarks Lake, unanimously approved a resolution in support of a casino development. A group of local businesspeople operating as an entity called Osage River Gaming is spearheading an effort to initiate a 2024 statewide gaming referendum to ask voters to approve casino gambling along the Osage.

Currently, the Missouri Constitution allows riverboats only on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The law also limits the Missouri Gaming Commission to issuing a maximum of 13 casino licenses, which have all been exhausted.

Miller County commissioners want the state to consider expanding gaming to the Ozarks by possibly amending the state constitution to include gaming on the Osage, and to increase the number of state casino permits by at least one. The Miller County support comes a week after the City of Lake Ozark’s Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve the casino ballot resolution.

Competing Ozarks Casinos

Osage River Gaming wants to build a casino on the Osage River near the Osage River Bridge south of Osage National Golf Course. Bally’s is the tentative development partner, and would operate the boat and share its revenue with Osage River Gaming.

The targeted property is within Miller County. In late November, the casino undertaking gained a critical ruling when the Missouri Secretary of State signed off on the proposed ballot language to permit casino gaming on the Osage, creating a 14th gaming concession.

A voter-initiated ballot referendum must obtain a minimum of 170K signatures from Missouri residents, which then need to be verified by the state secretary’s office. If that happens, a simple majority of the November 2024 vote would be required to amend the Missouri Constitution.

Tribal Casino Fight Continues

Meanwhile, the Osage Nation, a tribe in Oklahoma that has historical ties to Missouri and the Ozarks, isn’t folding on its federal campaign to bring a tribal casino to Lake of the Ozarks.

In June, the Lake Ozark Aldermen narrowly rejected a resolution to give the city’s support to the Osage Nation’s tribal casino plans. Lake Ozark Mayor Dennis Newberry was asked to cast a tiebreaking vote after the aldermen were deadlocked, 3-3. Newberry voted “No,” and the resolution was defeated.

I am definitely not opposed to the Osage Nation and their intent,” said Newberry, a local realtor. “What I’m concerned about is, as a businessman, I don’t make decisions based on little to no information. And as of right now, I have little to no information.”

Other local officials believe a tribal casino, which might not be required to pay certain state or local taxes, wouldn’t provide nearly the same economic benefits for the region as a commercial property.

A tribal casino, however, doesn’t need local support. Instead, the Osage Nation only needs the U.S. Department of the Interior to take its Ozarks land into the federal trust.

If that happens, the tribe would be cleared to operate Class I and II gaming on the sovereign land, as defined under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. For Class III games, which include Las Vegas-style slot machines and live dealer table games, the tribe would need to enter into a compact agreement with the state.

Missouri currently doesn’t have any tribal casinos.