JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal that could allow casinos near central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks won approval Thursday from a House committee as a first step toward placing the measure on the statewide ballot.

The state constitution currently allows casinos only along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The proposed constitutional amendment would add the Osage River downstream from the point where the Bagnell Dam forms the Lake of the Ozarks to where it joins with the Missouri River a little east of Jefferson City.

Republican Rep. Rocky Miller, who represents the Lake of the Ozarks area, said he filed the proposal as a preemptive move after being approached by a group interested in pursuing a ballot initiative to open the Lake of the Ozarks to casinos. Miller said he believes a legislative proposal would be better crafted than an initiative petition and could ensure that any casinos go through the current licensing process overseen by the Missouri Gaming Commission.

“If done correctly, it could be an economic driver” for the Lake of the Ozarks, he said.

The House Special Committee on Government Oversight advanced the proposal on a 3-2 vote, with all Republicans present in support of it and both Democrats present in opposition.

Missouri voters in 2004 rejected a ballot initiative that would have amended the constitution to allow a casino along the White River at Rockaway Beach, which is near the southwest Missouri tourist destination of Branson.

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