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story.lead_photo.caption Guests below Bagnell Dam at the Osage River access watch a young eagle soar above the water Saturday. Master Naturalist and event volunteer Ted Windels said they saw about 150 visitors before 12:30 p.m. and witnessed at least six eagles preying on fish, roosting in a nest across the river or flying high for guests to spot above the water. Photo by Samantha Edmondson

A proposal in the Missouri Legislature would add the Osage River to the list of waterways in the state where riverboat gambling is permitted.

State Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, offered his amended version of House Joint Resolution 87 before committee Tuesday.

The amended version removes the Lake of the Ozarks from the resolution.

"Why in the world would I do this? I didn't come up here to do this," Miller said. "I literally don't know if I really care about this."

However, Miller said he felt he had to do it — because of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Missouri through initiative petition. Miller said there have been problems with medical marijuana — people have been complaining about the selection process for licensing facilities.

Right now, there's no reason to change the state Constitution. He said the joint resolution is just a step. It doesn't add gaming on the Osage River.

"If we don't do this, we're going to have an initiative petition — we're probably going to have one anyway — but in this case, we have the ability to actually move on it," he said. "If we don't have this piece in place — if we don't have the Osage River added to this change in the Constitution, of course we know we can't change the Constitution."

Miller presented HJR 87 to the Missouri House of Representatives Special Committee on Government Oversight on Tuesday.

The resolution, if passed by voters, would give a future General Assembly the ability to act if one of the state's current casino licenses comes available. Missouri's casinos amendment also allows the General Assembly to add licenses without going to the voters, he said.

At the end of the day, Miller said, he wants the community to have input on this.

And he wants the process to be done correctly by going through the Legislature, Miller said.

"If we don't do it, there's probably going to be an initiative petition. I've already heard of several," he explained. "We're also looking down the barrel of recreational marijuana."

There have been previous efforts to move gambling away from the state's two largest rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. Rockaway Beach, in Taney County near Branson, has twice tried to land a casino.

The first effort came through an initiative ballot voters considered in a 2004 election. It would have allowed casinos on the White River, which forms Lake Taneycomo. Voters soundly defeated the initiative.

A 2016 effort supporting a Rockaway Beach casino dissolved when it lost financial support.

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said Miller mentioned problems with the rollout of medical marijuana — particularly people complaining about the licensing process.

"Are you suggesting that if we had passed something instead of it being passed by the voters that we wouldn't have had problems with licensing?" Merideth asked.

Of course, the state would have had problems, Miller replied. However, if the medical marijuana law was statutory, the Legislature could make adjustments to it.

"I might have supported it being statutory, too, for that reason," Merideth said. "But it is interesting to note that voters chose one out of three (initiative petitions for medical marijuana) — meaning they did their homework, and they chose one that we couldn't undo because they were a little bit worried about us undoing it."

Miller said he understood the concerns but noted initiative petitions could have unwanted consequences that are difficult to change.

Merideth pointed out the resolution would be a step in the process of allowing casinos on the Osage River.

However, all 13 of the state's licenses for casinos are already taken and not likely to be relinquished anytime soon, Miller said.

Merideth argued, functionally, approving the Osage River as a waterway on which a casino could be sited takes the decision about whether there is a casino located on the river out of voters' hands and leaves it with the Legislature.

Miller warned he thinks there will be an initiative petition that would allow for a 14th license.

Reporter Brendan Crowley contributed to this article.

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