Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach Board of Aldermen Buck Brown, from left, Thom Borchert, Rex Wood, Mayor Don Smith, City Attorney Marcus Glass and City Clerk Ambur Lamerson meet Tuesday to discuss adding a casino within Rockaway Beach.

ROCKAWAY BEACH — The idea of adding a casino is being rekindled in the “crown jewel” of the Ozarks. Rockaway Beach is beginning talks about changing the state constitution through a ballot issue that would allow a casino to be built as part of the White River.

At a city meeting Tuesday attended by approximately 40 residents, Mayor Don Smith said he will not give up on bringing gambling.

“Rockaway Beach is the crown jewel that started tourism in southern Missouri. Think about that — think about how important this town is,” Smith said. “I don’t want to let it die. “If I see an opportunity to make this town come alive and make history, I want to be a part of that. I will fight hard to make that happen — none stop.”

Money isn’t a problem because of one potential investor, who has not been named, Smith said to dozens of residents.

“This guy, I’ve met with him, I’ve talked on the phone with him several times, we met with him two weeks ago and he straight told me, ‘I’ll give you $15 million right now. $15 million is nothing to me. I just want the casino here,’” Smith said.

He said he has heard concerns.

“I listened to one side say that casinos are where you go buy drugs and there are strip clubs in them. I’ve never seen that. The ones I’ve seen had little old ladies playing slots at every one I saw,” Smith said. I didn’t see drugs. I didn’t see stripper poles. I didn’t see all the garbage that I kept hearing about.”

Currently, the state only allows casinos along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. According to Missouri Gaming Commission Public Information Coordinator LeAnn McCarthy, via email, in 2008 Proposition A capped the number of casinos at 13 in Missouri.

“As of this writing, all 13 licenses have been issued and are operating riverboat gaming casinos,” she said.

In 2004, Rockaway Beach failed to convince Missouri voters to change the state constitution, according to Branson Tri-Lakes News archives. Supporters of the riverboat amendment were counting on the casino to bring 1,000 full-time jobs to the community. Southwest Casino and Hotel Corporation, the company behind the proposed casino project, said downtown Rockaway Beach would have been renovated.

Of the more than 1 million Missourians who voted on the issue in August 2004, 55.9 percent opposed it, archives stated.

Meanwhile, Arkansas voters will decide in November whether a casino can be built in neighboring Boone County.

“There are legal hurdles to be cleared before a casino could be located in Taney County/Rockaway Beach, such as the cap on the number of casinos in Missouri, and not being located on the Missouri or Mississippi rivers,” McCarthy said.

According to the commission’s annual report, during the 2015 fiscal year, Missouri’s 13 casinos:

• Employed 9,623 people

• Paid Wages of $320 million

• Contributed $353.2 million in direct gaming taxes to state and local home-dock governments

• Contributed $87.7 million in total state admission fees to special state funds and home-dock governments

• Earned $1.682 billion in gross gaming revenue

• Paid total real estate and sales taxes of $69.4 million, for a combined total of gaming and other taxes of $510.3 million

• Invested a total of $3 billion in capital investments to date

Smith said the city still has a long way to go before this would go to voters.

“I’m just never going to give up. That’s just not in me. Failure is not an option,” Smith said.

(2) comments

LandSeeker

Dear Mayor Smith,

We are long term "Ozarkians": Married over 40 years, good family with children and grand-children. We recently began a search for lake-front or lake-view property to build the house of our dreams as we look ahead to retirement. One of our opportunities was going to be Rockaway Beach. We saw some land that we liked the sound of and then I remembered the push/pull struggle regarding a possible casino. After reading your dogmatic position I think we will pass on Rockaway Beach and look to other towns. As a devoted husband, dad,  grandpa, semi-retired banker and musician, who has done an extensive amount of travel throughout our great nation I have seen many small towns get sucked in by the allure of assets that a casino supposedly brings. The divorce rates are higher, alcoholism is higher, and "alcohol is a drug". Yet even beyond all that there are far better ways to revitalize a community. We were ready to consider popping for 20 acres, build a home, maybe start a small business and there a many others like us. The casino may be an easy route to a fast fistful of cash, but rest assured you will lose the "Crown Jewels". In fact what you will be left with is a cubic zirconia where there once was a beautiful diamond. Take the higher road and build from the strengths that made us want to look at Rockaway: beautiful land and sites and friendly people. Get creative with building infrastructure. Get out and speak with businesses around the state and tell them what you have to offer in the way of resources. Casinos will be hip for a short time and gradually the cliental will shift to a more shady version. It is your comment of "failure is not an option" that will make us look elsewhere as there is no comparison in starting a two-bit casino to the heroic efforts led by Mission Director, Gene Kranz's, of the life and death struggles experienced by our Apollo 13 mission hero's. It only demonstrates the shallow future that any casino will bring.

Just me

I'd like to answer Landseeker's post about all the problems brought about by a Casino. First of all my friend, go over to West Siloam Springs, OK and look at what a casino and fresh money has done to their little town. It is simply beautiful, the building is like no other, and the whole town looks prosperous.

My wife and I went to Downstream a few weeks back, and all the evil elements that you describe in your letter were not there. Only thing I saw was Senior Citizens, most of them smoking, and some even silly enough to smoke with oxygen on playing the machines. The old bs about the evils of gambling no longer hold water, but it makes the bible thumpers happy. If you don't like gambling don't go, if you don't like a tavern, don't go, but that doesn't make it wrong for anyone else to go.
David Rust

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