Life imitates art: Will a casino come to the Lake of the Ozarks?

lotocasino

This artist’s rendering shows the Osage Nation hotel and casino planned for the Lake of the Ozarks. — Courtesy of the Osage Nation

proposal to allow a new casino near the Lake of the Ozarks on Sunday was the final initiative petition submitted for a possible slot on Missouri’s ballot later this year.

The Osage River Gaming & Convention committee said in a news release that it turned in over 320,000 signatures in an effort to meet the requirement to equal 8% of the 2020 vote for governor in six of the state’s eight congressional districts, or roughly 171,000 signatures.

If approved by voters, the development would include a hotel, convention center, restaurants and other attractions, backers said in the release.

The proposal would amend the Missouri Constitution to allow a casino along the Osage River between Bagnell Dam and the confluence with the Missouri River. The constitution currently authorizes casinos only along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The proposal would also override a state law limiting the state to 13 licensed casinos, passed in 2008 as a result of an initiative sponsored by casino operators.

The Lake of the Ozarks is one of Missouri’s busiest tourism destinations. The casino proposal is being bankrolled by Bally’s, which currently operates a casino in Kansas City, and RIS Inc., a major regional developer. Each has contributed about half of the $4.1 million raised for the petition drive.

The proposal is being pushed in response to a casino development announced in 2021 by the Osage Nation, the Native American tribe that the river is named for. That project, a $60 million development, includes construction of a casino, hotel and convention center.

Backers of the initiative effort say their casino project will  provide 700 to 800 jobs.

According to the ballot summary, the casino is expected to produce admission and fee revenue of $2.1 million annually, money that is split with the local government with jurisdiction over the site and the Missouri Gaming Commission. The tax on casino net winnings is projected to be about $14.3 million annually.

The proposal earmarks the new gambling tax revenue to early childhood literacy programs in public schools.

The initiative for the Osage River casino was the fourth submitted to the secretary of state’s office before Sunday’s deadline.

The other initiatives are:

  • A proposal to enshrine abortion rights in Missouri’s constitution. Supporters said Friday that they collected more than 380,000 signatures in an effort to qualify for this year’s ballot.
  • A proposal to change the constitution to legalize sports wagering. Currently, the constitution only allows bingo, a state lottery, parimutuel wagering on horse races and casino gambling near the state’s largest rivers.
  • An initiative changing state law to increase the minimum wage in Missouri to $15 an hour starting in 2026 and require employers to provide paid leave for illness and to care for a family member.

A proposal awaiting a final state Senate vote would raise the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment. Instead of the statewide majority currently required, a proposal amending the constitution would need a majority vote in five of the state’s congressional districts to be approved.

Backers said the change is needed because it is too easy to place an amendment on the ballot.

This year, 174 initiative proposals were filed with the secretary of state’s office. Of that number, 24 were withdrawn, nine were rejected for various reasons and the rest were certified for signature gathering.

If the four that were submitted have sufficient signatures, they will appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Mike Parson orders a different date. To appear on the Aug. 6 ballot, the signatures must be checked and certified by early June, but the secretary of state’s office has predicted it won’t finish its work until early August.

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