Showdown Looms For Competing Casino Efforts In Lake Of The Ozarks

Written By Cheryl Coward on April 2, 2024 - Last Updated on April 8, 2024
A picture of boats on the Lake of the Ozarks for a story about competing efforts to build a casino on the lake.

A showdown between two factions that want to bring a casino to Lake of the Ozarks is on the horizon.

The deciding factors on who may prevail come down to a signature-gathering effort and a decision from the US Department of Interior.

On one side, there is an investment group, Osage River Gaming and Convention, which has backing from Bally’s Corp. Osage River Gaming seeks a constitutional amendment that would add another gambling boat license to the state constitution.

On the other side is a group with the support of the Oklahoma-based Osage Nation that wants to build a casino entertainment complex on land where it has ancestral ties.

Among the arguments in favor of building a gambling venue is that it would provide economic benefits, including jobs, during the offseason when many businesses in the area shut down after the summer season frenzy. Opponents argue that the summer influx also brings crime, and a casino would lead to a surge in illegal activity.

Deadline nears for constitutional amendment signatures

Missouri law currently allows for 13 casino licenses, all of them for riverboat casinos. It would take a constitutional amendment to add more brick-and-mortar casinos in the state. Missouri online casinos remain illegal.

Osage River Gaming officially began its efforts last fall when the state approved its petition effort. The proposed casino would sit on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam. Tax revenue would go to education initiatives. The group estimates that the casino could bring in as much as $4 million in local taxes and up to $22.8 million in annual state taxes.

The Missouri Osage River Gambling Boat License Amendment needs 171,592 valid signatures to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. The deadline to submit the signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State is about a month away, May 5.

Osage Riving Gaming told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month that it is optimistic it will obtain enough signatures.

“We are pleased with the progress of our signature-gathering. Our internal metrics have us on track to collect more than enough signatures to turn in on May 5th, and we anticipate being on the November 2024 ballot.”

Previous efforts supported by the group to build a new casino in the Ozarks failed in the General Assembly.

Osage Nation has its own plans for a casino in the Ozarks

The Osage Nation announced its plans for the Lake of the Ozarks casino in 2021. The tribe plans to invest $60 million to build a casino-based entertainment district.

The tribe has filed an application with the US Department of Interior to get approved for a Class II casino. Under federal rules, a Class II casino does not require state approval. If the tribe is successful, the land it has purchased and cleared will be under federal trust. That would give the Osage Nation tribal sovereignty.

Local officials are split on the idea of a tribe-owned casino in the area.

Osage Nation CEO Kimberly Pearson wrote an opinion for the Missouri Times in February explaining the tribe’s historic claim to the land and its construction plans. She refuted what she called “racist and false claims at a hearing regarding casino development for the Lake of the Ozarks.”

“Our plan to bring a world-class entertainment district to the Lake of the Ozarks is moving forward as planned, and once completed will see the Osage Casinos make a $60 million investment in the community. This investment we are making in our ancestral homeland will bring new jobs, tourism and revenue to the area. Phase 1 of this project includes construction of a casino, sports bar, restaurant and convention center. Additionally, we will build a hotel to complement the entertainment district.”

Osage River Gaming claims the Osage Nation project would not be subject to state and local taxes. The tribe argued that it already donates significant money to the area. The tribe also says its casinos in Oklahoma pay taxes to state and federal agencies, pay workers above-market rates and make “significant philanthropic contributions to law enforcement and other first responders” as well as to charities and youth groups.

The Osage Nation’s opposition to the Bally’s-backed group includes supporting a political action committee created to oppose the constitutional amendment effort. The tribe gave $75,000 to the PAC last month via a lobbying firm that represents the tribe.

What next?

In the next two weeks, the outcome of the Osage River Gaming signature-gathering should be known. If the amendment makes the ballot and voters approve it, it remains to be seen if that halts the efforts of the Osage Nation or if the tribe will change tactics.

In the meantime, it could take up to two years for the Osage Nation to get federal approval.

Photo by AP Photo / Charlie Riedel
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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayMissouri with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California, including coverage of the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 election battle.

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