Osage gaming officials moving forward with casino employee minimum wage study

Osage Nation gaming officials are pursuing a minimum wage study for Osage Casino employees, which could mean increases for those salaries close to the federal level.

Discussion on the casino employee minimum wage level took place during the July special session when the Fourth ON Congress considered and voted down a bill (ONCA 15-55 sponsored by Congressman John Maker) that sought to match the casino’s minimum wage with the Nation’s current $11.50 hourly minimum wage for tribal government employees. The failed bill came after the Nation’s Gaming Enterprise Board and casino management officials told Congress they were also pursuing a minimum wage study.

Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse said casino management is awaiting responses from interested companies on proposals for conducting the minimum wage study during the Aug. 19 gaming board meeting. The study comes after the gaming board voted unanimously on July 15 to support casino management to move forward with a comprehensive minimum wage and incentive plan study.

The gaming board said it was against the bill when it was filed and argued the just-filed 2016 fiscal year gaming plan of operations would need to be amended to include the bill’s impact, which would mean changes to salaries and other financial items listed in the plan.

According to ONCA 15-55, the minimum wage would have increased for casino employees to $10 per hour effective immediately had the bill passed and that rate would increase to $11.50 per hour when the 2017 fiscal year started. ONCA 15-55 was an amendment to the Nation’s minimum salary wage law to include Gaming Enterprise (employees) and limited liability company employees.

Currently the casino follows the state and federal minimum wage requirement of a $7.25 hourly minimum wage for its employees.  

Maker said he filed ONCA 15-55 to “give these (casino employees) a chance to give their families a better life.”

Congresswoman Angela Pratt voted against the bill stating it was too costly at this time, but said she is open to revisit the issue after the minimum wage study is completed with recommendations. “I know how to work a hard job with little pay, so I can put myself in those shoes but I’m in this seat now and I do understand my role and it is my job to look at these numbers and to listen to the board, listen to the Executive (branch) and all of our gaming industry professionals do not agree with this happening at this time… I am not completely against this, I just want to give them time to do their job.”

Congressman John Jech also agreed in voting down the bill noting there are several issues and questions that need addressing by gaming officials before any impacted casino jobs receive salary increases.

According to a Congressional fiscal analysis of ONCA 15-55, the minimum wage increase would’ve impacted 601 casino employees and 75-80 of those employees are Osage. The fiscal analysis also cited gaming officials, who noted the last Osage Casino salary compensation study was completed in 2013 and such studies are commissioned every four to five years.