A group of local investors says that, with or without the support of the Missouri legislature, they intend to pursue bringing casino gambling to the Osage River and Lake of the Ozarks.

A group of local investors says that, with or without the support of the Missouri legislature, they intend to pursue bringing casino gambling to the Osage River and Lake of the Ozarks.

Tim Hand, a lake area financial/business consultant, is heading up the group of businesses owners supporting HRJ 87, a proposal filed by Rep. Rocky Miller, to ask voters to amend the state constitution to allow casinos on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and the point where the Osage meets the Missouri River.

Miller, who represents the lake area, said he filed the proposal to try to preempt a potential initiative petition drive to allow casinos on Lake of the Ozarks.

The Missouri Constitution currently allows casinos only along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. So far, Miller’s proposal has been endorsed by a Missouri House panel.

Missouri has 13 licenses for casinos. Currently all 13 are in use. However, Hand said that could change. If it does, Hand said the Osage River and Lake of the Ozarks are a prime location for a multi-million casino development. For that to happen, the constitution has to be amended to include the Osage River.

“Only the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were included in the original ballot initiative which excludes other river locations such as the Osage River and Lake of the Ozarks. Lake of the Ozarks is undisputedly the largest and most dominant tourist destination in Missouri, and perhaps the entire Midwest. The entire lake economy is centered on recreation and entertainment; yet the citizens, businesses, and tourists to this great vacation spot have no access to gaming and casino entertainment and the associated ancillary activities,” Hand said. “It is important to note that weekly buses take people from the lake area to gamble in Booneville and neighboring states. The town of Boonville has a casino because of its proximity to the Missouri River, but Osage Beach, Lake Ozark, Camdenton, and Sunrise Beach have no such access. It makes no sense.”

The riverboat casino industry in Missouri employs nearly 10,000 with an annual payroll of $320 million between the 13 casinos. Annual revenue exceeds $1.5 billion.

Hand said he believes the Lake of the Ozarks area is a bigger and stronger market for a riverboat casino than Cape Girardeau, which was the most recent location to be licensed. Based on estimates the group has been looking at for over 2 years, a riverboat casino could generate as much as $100 million in revenue annually, with $20 million of that in taxes. It would draw more people to the area to augment of the off-season when the tourism industry drops off during the winter months, he said.

Hand estimates a venue would cost $150-$200 million to build and would bring 750 jobs to the area just for the construction phase.
The group is working with elected officials, most notably Rep. Rocky Miller, to pass HJR 87 to add the Osage River, Hand said.

“We feel that if such a measure reaches the voters this fall, it will likely pass,” he said.

If Miller’s bill fails in the Missouri legislature, Hand and his group of investors plans to circumvent the legislature and promote an initiative petition to bring casino gambling to Lake of the Ozarks. Hand said the group formed a nonprofit 2 years ago.

“One way or another,” Hand said, “we will prevail.”

To contact the organization, email osageriverfaming@gmx.com