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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal that could allow casinos near central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks won approval Thursday from a House committee as a first step toward placing the measure on the statewide ballot.
Lake Ozark Missouri Casino
The state constitution currently allows casinos only along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The proposed constitutional amendment would add the Osage River downstream from the point where the Bagnell Dam forms the Lake of the Ozarks to where it joins with the Missouri River a little east of Jefferson City.
Republican Rep. Rocky Miller, who represents the Lake of the Ozarks area, said he filed the proposal as a preemptive move after being approached by a group interested in pursuing a ballot initiative to open the Lake of the Ozarks to casinos. Miller said he believes a legislative proposal would be better crafted than an initiative petition and could ensure that any casinos go through the current licensing process overseen by the Missouri Gaming Commission.
“If done correctly, it could be an economic driver” for the Lake of the Ozarks, he said.
The House Special Committee on Government Oversight advanced the proposal on a 3-2 vote, with all Republicans present in support of it and both Democrats present in opposition.
Missouri voters in 2004 rejected a ballot initiative that would have amended the constitution to allow a casino along the White River at Rockaway Beach, which is near the southwest Missouri tourist destination of Branson.
(MISSOURINET) Missouri voters could weigh in at the ballot box about whether to have a riverboat casino along the Osage River. Republican State Representative Rocky Miller is proposing a change to the Constitution that would allow people to place their bets along the Osage River. Current law allows riverboat gambling along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
Miller says he’s had this idea on his mind for quite some time.
“When the first riverboat gambling came out in the 90s, I thought ‘Well gosh, why isn’t the Osage River part of the Missouri and Mississippi riverboat gaming license?’ I have no idea why it wasn’t, but I thought we really should be,” he says.
Miller has his eye on the Lake of the Ozarks in mid Missouri.
“I’ve never thought that Lake of the Ozarks is really really a family-friendly destination. There are things that families can do and I love having them there,” he says. “There are great things you can do there – there’s water parks, there’s skee ball. But honestly, compared to Branson, we’ve always been an adult entertainment area.”
Miller says the Netflix show Ozark did not inspire his decision to file the bill, but he says the measure has been referred to as “The Ozark bill”. During the latest season of the hit show, a riverboat casino set sail along the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.
Miller says he does not want to expand gambling.
“I think that right now, we just need to right the wrong. I truly would like to see a casino in Lake of the Ozarks, but I think the problems that we have, if we open those flood gates up, we’d have every casino fighting and I think we would end up getting nothing done. This is just a pragmatic, sort of level-headed way of doing it. Let’s add the Osage River. In the future, if a license becomes available, then we’re there to make a pitch for it,” says Miller.
Casino Lake Ozark Missouri
The State Gaming Commission has already licensed 13 casinos – the maximum allowed in Missouri. If passed by the Legislature and people, the measure would let a potential riverboat casino pursue a license along the Osage, if one becomes available.
Miller says he’s “doing battle” against initiative petitions he’s heard might come along to expand gambling.
“This is so that we could kind of head that off at the pass and actually have input,” he says. “Only some rich guy that does the initiative petition and gets the signatures has input into how that’s read. I don’t. You don’t,” he says. “Through the process that we’re going through with my bill, you’re going to have public hearings. You’re going to have input. There’s probably going to be some changes to it.”
As for the economic impact of gambling on the Lake of the Ozarks?
“Cape Girardeau had a benefit of $55 million additional taxes and 726 new jobs,” Miller says. “I don’t know what the magnitude greater Lake of the Ozarks would be but you’ve got to think it would be a much greater magnitude.”
Century Casino operates boats in Cape Girardeau and nearby Caruthersville.
The legislation is HJR 87.