A casino in Lake Ozark developed by the Oklahoma-based Osage Nation could take years to become reality.

According to a news release posted on the Osage Nation website, there are multiple hurdles ahead before a spade of dirt can be turned.

For a tribe to build a casino, the news release says, the land must be in trust status with the federal government, and a gaming compact must be in place with the state of Missouri – either of which has not happened and could take years.

Nonetheless, the Lake of the Ozarks is abuzz with speculation that a casino could be coming to the Lake after years of rumors and innuendoes. In fact, a local group of investors as recently as two years ago announced plans to bring a casino to near the Osage River below Bagnell Dam. That process was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when the Missouri Legislature was interrupted for several weeks.

This time, however, the Osage Nation of Oklahoma is reaching out to its homeland to possibly expand its casino, hotel and entertainment ventures. This would be the first time the Osage Nation has left the confines of Oklahoma where it owns and manages seven casino entertainment complexes. The facility in Tulsa, Okla., was cited by the CEO of Osage Casinos as a potential example of what could be built in Lake Ozark.

“We are in the process of putting in our application for the trust land,” CEO Byron Bighorse said in a related news story. “It’s about a 12- month process. There is an environmental assessment that must be done. It’s going to be much like what we’ve done back home with our other casino properties. We’re hoping we can get the application submitted within the next 12 months.”

Location

The Osage Nation carried a news release on its website Friday announcing plans to invest approximately $60 million to develop a hotel featuring gambling, restaurants and entertainment venues. The location is believed to be on 28.3 acres of vacant land located where the former Baymont Inn/Denny’s Restaurant were located. The property fronts both Bagnell Dam Blvd. and Business 54.

The news release said the land was purchased in June by the Osage Nation.

A check with Miller County officials indicates the land is currently owned by Lake Land Development, LLC, with Bryce Crowley, a Rolla attorney, as the principal of record. As of Monday there was no recording of deed involving the Osage Nation.

In addition to the entertainment center, the project will include infrastructure and land improvements, additional lodging and long- term parking.

“We have established very good relationships with several communities in Missouri and seek to have a presence back in our homeland,” Osage Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said.

Historically, the Osage Nation once thrived in Missouri with a population of as many as 200,000 members of the Osage Tribe at its height. The Osage Tribe’s historical influence in the Lake region is still found today in homages such as City of Osage Beach, Osage County, and School of the Osage. As they have done in similar projects, Osage Nation says it plans to give back to the surrounding communities through philanthropic contributions to local schools, law enforcement and other first responders, local charities and community improvement projects. The Osage Nation is also committed to leveraging local vendors and local businesses when- ever possible to provide products and services for the facilities, according to the news release.

Local response

City of Lake Ozark officials have worked toward attracting a major player in economic development, improving infrastructure and revising local ordinances to encourage development.

"The City of Lake Ozark has taken proactive steps in the past several years to make our community a welcoming one for business, whether that means local startups on the historic Bagnell Dam Strip, or larger scale outside development,” a spokesman for the City Administrator’s office said. “The announcement from the Osage Nation Indian Tribe regarding their intent to bring a $60 million investment to our community is a welcome one. City officials look forward to working closely with leadership from the Osage Nation Indian Tribe to ensure their en- tertainment complex along Highway 54 will provide a positive impact for our community, and we are incredibly thankful for their recognition of our city and region as an area for development."

Mayor Dennis Newberry, who along with other city officials have met with Osage Nation leadership, is taking a wait-and-see approach, leaving the door open to other Native American presence in the lake area.

“A great deal of excitement has overtaken our community this week and for good reason. I met with a representative of the Osage Nation earlier this week who shared his client’s desire to develop a casino in Lake Ozark.”

“Although I support economic development in general there is a lot to learn yet. I believe in community input, studying best practices and seeking the best outcome for Lake Ozark. In addition to the Osage Nation, I am aware of another Indian Nation seeking a presence at Lake of the Ozarks. There is also more than one state licensed casino seeking a presence in our community. In the end, our support of any large scale economic development should be analyzed by the impact on our community and what is the best overall outcome for Lake Ozark. It is great to be considered by so many developments.”

What now?

“We have established very good relationships with several communities in Missouri and seek to have a presence back in our homeland,” Osage Nation Tribe Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said in the release.

According to another news source, there are no Indian reservations in Missouri, so the steps between issuing the press release Friday and the opening of the casino could take several years.

Here’s why:

•Any land purchased would have to be put into a trust for the nation by the Department of the Interior.

•The nation must negotiate a compact with the state dividing responsibilities for law enforcement on the casino property and establishing “taxation by the Indian tribe of such activity in amounts comparable to amounts assessed by the state for comparable activities.”

•Gov. Mike Parson, or his successor, would have to approve the compact, according to federal law.

•Tribes have the right to offer gambling that mirrors what the state allows “for any purpose by any person, organization, or entity.”

•If the state refuses to negotiate a compact, or does not do so in good faith, the tribe may sue in federal court.

This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: A casino at the Lake?