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.