A once-thriving southwest Missouri lake town wants to take another shot at casino gambling in an attempt to revive its shriveling economy.
The new push by Rockaway Beach is driven by an anonymous billionaire who wants to bring a riverboat casino to the community of about 850 residents, complete with decent-paying jobs and tourists who would flock there, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
Rockaway Beach Mayor Don Smith told residents last month that the man, whom he declined to identify, approached him six months ago with his proposal.
“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, according to the Branson Tri-Lakes News.
Even with that support, though, Rockaway Beach is facing stiff odds against gaining approval for such a project.
Missouri’s constitution allows casino gambling only on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. In 2004 the state’s voters soundly rejected an amendment that would have allowed a casino at Rockaway Beach.
Four years later, voters approved Proposition A, which capped the number of casino licenses in the state at 13 — all of which are currently in use, according to the Missouri Gaming Commission.
A majority of voters would need to support loosening the current gambling restrictions before Rockaway Beach could get a casino. Smith told the News-Leader he believes one ballot measure could address both the location and licensing restrictions.
“I think southwest Missouri is hemorrhaging money from tourists because of not having a casino,” Smith said.
Located on the north shore of Lake Taneycomo, Rockaway Beach is about 11 miles northeast of Branson. It was a tourism mecca until the construction of Table Rock Dam in the mid-1950s turned the warm-water lake into a cold-water one.
These days, tourists are more likely to frequent Branson or Table Rock Lake.
Al Patel, who converted a convenience store into the White River Sports Bar and Grill two years ago, called the casino an “awesome idea” that he thinks would draw new businesses to town.
Cathy Lilley, who lives in Fordland an hour north of Rockaway Beach, was in town with her family after a stay in Branson. She said she hopes there’s “never a casino here.”
“Quiet, slow-paced,” she said. “This is what we like about it.”