Business

Osage Casino requests ON Congress to consider two legislative items

TULSA, Okla. – Osage Nation gaming officials are requesting two legislative items to be considered by the Sixth ON Congress for changes to the Nation’s competitive bidding act, as well as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for a travel company contract to expand advertising for Osage Casino hotel room reservation sales on third-party travel websites.

Those two issues are subject to Congressional consideration during the 24-day Hun-Kah Session starting March 25 or if a special session is called sooner. The discussion topics arose during the Feb. 20 Gaming Enterprise Board meeting with gaming management and government officials also in attendance.

On the Nation’s competitive bidding act, Kimberly Pearson, the casino executive director, said: “We are taking a different avenue from amending the current competitive bidding act, we are looking at moving the competitive bidding act into policies and procedures for the Gaming Commission to regulate and then exempting us out of the Nation’s (current act).” 

Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn said she supports further work on the competitive bidding act to become “more user-friendly for our outside enterprises. I support moving forward with this conversation, it’s important to me as a legislator to see what we’re going to do with the law.”

The competitive bidding act is established in the Osage code as “the Osage Nation finds that there is a need for a fair and equitable bidding procedure for construction projects undertaken by the Nation. The original law (ONCA 07-57, William “Kugee” Supernaw) was passed in 2008 and has received two amendments since establishment.

Pearson also said the casino is requesting a Congressional resolution authorizing a waiver of sovereign immunity to travel company Expedia Group for an agreement to expand advertising hotel room reservation sales on travel websites owned by the travel website company.

According to its website, Expedia Group owns popular third-party travel websites including expedia.com, hotels.com, trivago, ORBITZ, Travelocity, CheapTickets, Hotwire and ebookers.

“Right now, we have no way of advertising (on those sites), Expedia owns all the travel companies that fall underneath them, and they are savvy to tribes that have their own waiver of sovereign immunity language and we can’t advertise on any (of their) travel websites without that,” Pearson said.  

Whitehorn said she supports the proposed resolution and added “it’s always important to us in Congress to have the Attorney General review the waiver language” before such resolutions are considered in sessions. The Congress has approved waivers of sovereign immunity in other past agreements for entities including Bank of Oklahoma for taking on financial services at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center, and PayCom which currently handles the ON government employee online payroll services. 

The travel website discussion comes after Congresswoman Alice Goodfox inquired about the Tulsa hotel’s progress during the Dec. 19 board meeting and also asked why the hotel isn’t coming up in those travel website searches. Bighorse added the Tulsa casino’s hotel saw a spike in room occupancy after a November fire at the Tulsa Hyatt Regency Hotel, which prompted a month-plus-long closure for repairs, displacing those hotel guests and those with pending Hyatt room reservations.  

In other news, Osage Casino CEO Byron Bighorse informed the board the Tulsa casino hosted its first concert on Feb. 16 with Goo Goo Dolls and opening act Better Than Ezra with a sellout crowd in the newly completed Skyline Event Center. Bighorse said the concert stretched at least three hours and “went off without a hitch, I’m really excited for that piece of the puzzle to finally be there.”

The Tulsa casino and hotel opened in August while construction continued on the Skyline Event Center located on the casino’s north side. Construction also continued on the hotel front entrance, which is now open, and progress continues on the expanded parking lots, which has experienced delays due to the recent inclement weather.

Joe Cooper, Chief Operations Officer for the casino, said construction on the unfinished parking lot portions is delayed due to the rains and cold temperatures. “The south phase of the parking lot is ready to be paved just as soon as the weather dries out (wet construction areas) and the temperature is above 40 degrees,” he said.