Rockaway Beach casino sunk

Wednesday, August 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:08 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2008

ROCKAWAY BEACH — Hopes for a casino slipped away Tuesday as voters across the state rejected an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would have allowed a casino in Rockaway Beach.

The amendment’s supporters said allowing the casino on Rockaway Beach’s downtown waterfront would breathe new life into a fading tourist town, and they pledged to funnel the resulting state revenue toward teacher salaries and struggling schools.

Opponents, however, said the casino would damage the family atmosphere that draws 7 million tourists to nearby Branson.

With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, 56 percent voted against the amendment.

In Boone County, 53 percent opposed the amendment.

Residents in the town of 577 people remained steadfastly optimistic until the end. They packed the Beach House Cafe, one of the few thriving businesses on the main thoroughfare, to nibble on chips and chicken wings and watch the election returns.

Opposition to the amendment , however, was widespread. In Boonville, which has its own riverboat casino, City Councilman Frank Shore said Tuesday night he was “well-satisfied” with the measure’s defeat.

“I was glad to hear it because it is an asset to have the boat here,” Shore said. “If there was another casino, I think we would lose quite a bit of business.”

Shore said Boonville’s casino draws busloads of visitors from the Branson and Springfield areas. Those are customers that might have been siphoned away had the Rockaway Beach proposal won approval.

Early in the evening, a dozen miles away from Rockaway Beach, a couple of hundred opponents of the amendment gathered at a Golden Corral restaurant in Branson to celebrate the victory.

Pete Herschend, whose Herschend Family Entertainment owns Silver Dollar City, led the fight against the amendment. He said he regretted that the election has divided Rockaway Beach and Branson.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with Rockaway Beach,” he said. “It’s about putting an end to the spread of casino gambling.”

Southwest Casino and Hotel Corp., a Minneapolis-based company, had promised to build a $100 million casino complex and to renovate the area’s existing motel and hotel rooms.

The ballot proposal was necessary because the Missouri Constitution limits casinos to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Rockaway Beach is along the White River, just downstream from Branson.

Tourists flocked to Rockaway Beach in the 1950s and ’60s. But that changed after a dam built on the White River made the newly created Lake Taneycomo too cold for swimmers.

Missourian reporters Andrew Eder and Kate Moser contributed to this report.

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