Missouri considers proposal for casino in Lake Ozark

On Wednesday, a Missouri House committee reviewed a proposal to allow residents to vote for the expansion of casino gambling in the state

The House Joint Resolution 23 was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, and if approved, will authorize the Missouri Gaming Commission to issue a permit to a gaming venue on the Osage River. According to Rep. Knight, a new casino in the Ozarks area would generate approximately $100 million yearly.

Casinos in the state are expected to pay 25% of their revenue in tax, meaning that the new casino could give the state around $25 million annually. Missouri currently has 13 gaming venues in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The proposed casino will likely be constructed on Lake Ozark, which boasts a population of 2,000. According to Mayor Dennis Newberry, Lake Ozark needed approximately $25 million generated by capital improvement projects the city was ill-equipped to afford. He also noted that Lake Ozark would greatly benefit from the annual $2.5 million received in gaming revenue.

Other HJR 23 supporters, including Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, asserted that the new casino would aid local businesses by attracting more tourists to the city.

The Osage Nation has expressed interest in building a casino in the city; however, the tribe’s immunity to the state law means that the HJR 23 had no direct effect on its development. The tribe has already bought some property in Lake Ozark in preparation for the casino and commenced clearing it for possible construction.

Miller County commissioner Don Abbett revealed that he was in support of the House Joint Resolution 23 mainly because a state-approved casino in the area was better than the alternative. He, however, did not extend his support for a casino owned by the Osage Nation in Lake Ozark.

According to the commissioner, an Osage casino in the city would not be subject to paying taxes and, as a result, acquire an advantage over future state casinos. The gaming venue would also not provide any tangible support to the community.

The CEO of the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board, Kimberly Pearson, countered Abbett’s comments by claiming that the Osage Casino would make charitable donations to the community in place of the taxes. The tribe reportedly already made several in the past.

Referencing a 2013 study of tribal gaming venues in Oklahoma, Bryce Crowley, the board’s legal counsel, revealed tribal casinos have contributed significantly to the state’s economy.

“‘The number of gaming tables in an Oklahoma county is significantly related to large increases in median household income and large decreases in the unemployment rate, level of violent crime and level of property crime,'” stated Crowley.

A number of Lake Ozark residents have already expressed some trepidation over the bill, claiming that it could increase the crime rate in the city. Some also questioned why a statewide ballot measure should be able to decide if the city needed a casino.

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