Ozarks Casino Future Uncertain After Vote, Legislative Inaction

Written By Hill Kerby on July 11, 2023
Effort to build a tribal casino on the Osage Riber hits a snag

The future looks murky for the new Osage Nation Casino at Lake of the Ozarks after two months of inaction from local and state legislators.

Despite bipartisan and bicameral support, a joint resolution from the Missouri House and Senate (SJR 14 and HJR 23) never received a vote before the legislative session adjourned in May.

The Lake Ozark Board of Aldermen voted to take no action on a casino resolution in June after voting in a tie, 3-3. Mayor Dennis Newberry was the tie-breaking vote, and he opposed the resolution.

Osage River Casino requires amending the state constitution

There are currently no tribal casinos or online casinos in Missouri. State law only allows riverboat gambling on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers or within 1,000 feet of their shorelines.

Lake of the Ozarks is a manmade reservoir on the Osage River. Effecting a casino on its shoreline requires a change to the state constitution, thus making it a statewide issue, regardless of local support.

The local pro-casino group Osage River Gaming (ORG) has led the charge in amending the constitution and bringing a casino to Lake Ozark. Per Missouri law, it has two avenues to succeeding: 

  • Legislators can vote again in 2024 to put a casino bill onto the ballot later in the year.
  • If the above seems unlikely, ORG can file a Citizens Initiative Petition and gather enough public support for its bill to gain ballot access.

Saying one thing and doing another

Osage Nation purchased land in Lake Ozark in June 2021 and announced plans to build a $60 million casino. It received state support from the city’s board of Alderman and Sens. Mike Bernskoetter and Justin Brown.

Newberry has also supported casino expansion, lobbying for legislative approval from Jefferson City and saying he was “thrilled” at the progress toward bringing a casino to town.

However, city residents raised questions and concerns that swayed the board and mayor to vote against the measure. And with state-level legislation falling through, local approval would not have made a difference.

Now, we wonder if the result will affect future efforts or prove nothing more than a blip on the radar. 

‘This ain’t over’

Attempts at bringing a casino onto the Osage began in 2020, though only briefly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It started what has been a four-year journey of tribulation.

After state legislators made no progress in 2021, Rep. Ron Hicks filed a joint resolution to expand riverboat gambling in Missouri in 2022. However, he was late in filing, and the bill never made it past the House committee to reach a vote.

This year brought more promise, but in the end, saw efforts derailed due to more pressing issues in Congress: two bills involving transgender athletes and preventing minors from receiving puberty blockers.

According to Tim Hand of Osage River Gaming, these bills brought polarization into the Legislature, affecting bipartisan support for other bills, including the casino bills. That said, some of these same legislators have pledged allegiance for future votes, Hand said.

“We have another coalition of people that have agreed to support it next time. After the session ended, we had some legislators reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, this ain’t over.’”

Hand remains optimistic about the future, too. He thinks the casino will come to Lake of the Ozarks. He added, “It’s gonna happen. It’s just taking a lot longer.”

Photo by Shutterstock
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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