A group of Lake Area Business owners, concerned citizens and Government officials made a trip to Jefferson City to discuss a bill sponsored by Representative Ron Hicks…aiming to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow for a casino on the Osage River.

In a letter submitted to KRMS News, the group says although the bill won’t be voted on until 2023, they still believed it was important to speak with lawmakers about the proposal and how it affected the Lake of the Ozarks region.

The group says they met with several political leaders on the hill, all who voiced support for the bill that is expected to create 700 jobs and generate over $100 million in tax revenue.

The difference between this casino and the proposed casino by the Osage Nation, is state control and regulations.

If approved, the city of Lake Ozark and Miller County could become the largest source of tax revenue for the Lake of the Ozarks, second only to Lake Regional Health System.

 

Read the full letter below:

On Tuesday, April 26th, a delegation of Lake Area business owners, concerned citizens and government officials visited the Capitol Building in Jefferson City. The purpose of the meeting was to voice support for House Joint Resolution 127 (HJR-127). The bill, HJR-127 sponsored by Representative Ron Hicks, seeks to amend the Missouri State Constitution to include the Osage River as a legally permissible location for gaming (legal gaming is already allowed within the state on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers). In addition, the resolution adds an additional (14th) gaming license designated for the Osage River (currently Missouri Gaming licenses are capped at 13 and all are currently in use). HJR-127 was to be introduced to the Emerging Issues Committee that same day. Because of the timing of the legislative cycle, the House hearing is ceremonial in that HJR-127 would not actually be introduced and voted on until the next legislative session in 2023.

Prior to the hearing, the group met with the following senior state legislators:

  • Senator Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City)
  • Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe (R)
  • Majority Leader Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis)
  • Senator Justin Brown (R-Rolla)
  • Speaker Pro Tem John Weimann (R- O’Fallon)
  • Representative Tracy McCreary (D- St. Louis)
  • Representative Ron Hicks (R-Weldon Springs)

Each legislator voiced support for HJR-127 in principle based on its substantial economic impact to the Lake economy. Our group outlined the magnitude of the effort in creating approximately 700 jobs (mostly local) during the construction phase of the project and at least that many permanent jobs once operations commence. A state-regulated casino would generate at least $100 million in net new revenue to the Lake economy and more than $25 million in state and local tax revenue. Once completed, a state-regulated casino on the Osage River would be Lake Ozark and Miller County’s largest tax revenue source (by far). The facility would likely be the Lake area’s second largest employer (behind Lake Regional Health system).

Not unexpectedly, much of the conversation with legislators centered around the recent announcement of the Osage Nation to also build a casino facility at the Lake. The Osage Nation has closed on at least one parcel of property to be redeveloped for this purpose. Although several of the aforementioned legislators had previously voiced support of the Osage Nation project, that support has waned as the details have emerged about the potential impact an Indian casino will have on existing small businesses. Several of the legislators were unaware of the “tax free” status of tribal properties and non-conformance with any state or local laws. Moreover, Chief Geoffrey M. Standing Bear, leader of the Osage Nation has not been shy about his intentions to enter into other industries in addition to a casino. This will include truck stops, convenience stores, retail, etc. In other states’ markets where this has occurred, local businesses have been decimated as they have had to compete on a lopsided playing field with a tax-free entity. For example, the fuel tax in Missouri will soon be 30 cents per gallon. Imagine a truck stop or convenience store operating on an adjacent corner competing with a tax-free entity like Osage Nation. Osage Nation would have a 30-cent advantage since they would not pay state taxes and be able to offer fuel for much less than their competition.

Ron Leone, Executive Director of the Missouri Petroleum and Convenience Association, joined our group for part of the day. Ron made a compelling case for the economic carnage that would devastate his industry if the Osage Nation were granted this special status. Reportedly, the Osage Nation has been seeking large parcels of property adjacent to interstate highways in various locations within the state including Cuba and Hannibal. These properties would undoubtedly be used for the construction of truck stops and/or convenience stores.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan, is a 1988 United States federal law that establishes the jurisdictional framework that governs Indian Gaming. The actual process to transfer state land to an Indian Tribe as sovereign is complicated and beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, in the end, the Osage Nation only faces one hurdle:  the signature of the sitting Governor. Once the Genie is out of the bottle, the Osage Nation or other tribes would be free to compete unfairly with Missouri’s regulated and tax paying businesses across the entire state. Look no further than the 29 other states who have already experienced the negative impact. One must wonder what Governor Mike Parsons would like his legacy to be. And his successors should be similarly concerned.

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