The Osage Nation could be returning to Missouri after a 200-year hiatus. In a press release Friday, the tribe that gave its name to the Osage River announced its intention to build a casino resort at the Lake of the Ozarks.
The Oklahoma-based Nation said it would commit around $60 million towards the project, which is described as “one of the most substantial economic development initiatives for the region in years.” It envisages the development as a “new entertainment district” that would include a hotel complex, restaurants, and “entertainment and more.”
This would be the only casino in the popular regional tourist destination. Its nearest competitors would be Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville, around 70 miles away, and the casinos of Kansas City and St Louis, all more than 160 miles away.
The tribe said the proposed casino would be in Miller County, without elaborating on the precise location or whether it had already acquired land for the project. Osage Beach is split between Miller County and adjacent Camden County.
According to local public radio broadcaster KCUR-FM, the Osage Nation has been scouting for investments in the state since at least 2017. That’s when it hired former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley as a lobbyist and contributed to former Gov. Eric Greitens’ inaugural fund.
Back then, the tribe mentioned the Lake of the Ozarks as a place of interest. But it appeared to be more focused on the area around the city of Cuba.
The Nation still has substantial hoops to jump through. There are no tribal reservations in Missouri and no tribal casinos. The Nation will have to have land for the development taken into trust by the federal government, a process that can take years to play out.
This is where the government takes non-tribal land and converts it into Indian land, thereby partially removing it from the jurisdiction of the state. The procedure makes casino gaming legally possible under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
A tribe needs to prove a historical connection to the land in question in its trust application, although this may be the least of its worries. Osage lands once encompassed most of Missouri, although it was forced to cede much of this to the United States in a treaty in 1808.
The tribe will also need to secure support from local communities, local officials, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to grease the skids on its application.
Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said in a statement the tribe had forged good relationships with several communities in the region. The news release also contained supportive quotes from several local lawmakers.
The tribe currently owns and operates seven casinos in Oklahoma. Following a stint in southeast Kansas in the mid-1800s, its members were relocated to Indian Territory in Oklahoma by an 1870 act of Congress.
The discovery of oil on those lands in the early 20th century led to tribal members becoming extremely rich. But in 1921, the federal government declared that the Osage people were incapable of managing their own wealth.
Court-appointed white guardians were assigned to each adult member, and this attracted swindlers who defrauded and sometimes murdered their charges to steal their money.
This chapter of Osage history is the subject of an upcoming Martin Scorsese movie, Killers of the Flower Moon.
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