The Gaming Enterprise Board unanimously passed an emergency resolution to suspend hotel and gaming operations at all seven casinos starting today at 11:59 p.m. until further notice.
“We weighed this decision heavily because of the impact it will have on the Osage Nation,” said Byron Bighorse, CEO of Osage Casinos in a press release. "However, the health and safety of our employees and guests is our top priority. We are in a time when the entire community needs to pull together for what is best, and that is preventing the spread of this global pandemic.”
According to the release, Osage executives will continue to monitor the situation. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said the Nation will work in tandem with health professionals, other tribal gaming operations and city and state officials.
Possible effects of closure
The income derived from Osage Casinos funds the operations of the Osage Nation, which include the three branches of government. Within the Executive Branch there are nearly 500 employees and many of those employees' salaries are funded by casino revenue. The casinos give the Nation a monthly distribution to pay for the Nation’s employees, department and program costs, matching funds for federal grants, and the payments for the health benefit card, the Plan F Medicare supplement, the Part D Subscription supplement, the Higher Education Scholarship Fund and the Burial Assistance Fund.
Standing Bear said the casinos have already made the monthly distribution for March and have enough in reserve to make the monthly distribution for April, should the casinos be closed for more than two weeks. But, if the casinos are closed for more than 6 weeks, there will have to be some tough decisions made.
“Byron Bighorse and I talked after today’s meeting and he said if we can just keep it within two weeks, like the other tribes, he is going to recommend to the gaming board that we get the full distribution next month. If this goes on past the two weeks, the chairman of the gaming board said we all share in the burden. We’re going to have to take this week by week,” Standing Bear said. “I’ve directed all Osage Nation employees all receive full pay and benefits for at least 30 days. So, hopefully, this closure will be over by then, but if it’s not then we’re going to have to look at what we do after that.”
Standing Bear said the Nation has a $30 million permanent fund reserved for direct services. He also said the last resort would be to borrow more money.
“I can tell you one thing, right in front of me I am looking at the confidential statements of our debt structure, that includes the casinos. We have no debt at Osage Nation, the treasurer can confirm that. The debt is at the casinos, and it is under $100 million. That includes the ranch, all the new casino in Tulsa and all our improvements at the other casinos,” he said. “Our credit is so good, that if we have to, and reluctantly have to, we would approach the gaming board, the Congress and we would talk about borrowing more money and that is the last resort. But we are really strong in our credit and that is a very strong financial position to be in.”
Tribes still operating casinos
Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
Tribes that have closed down casino properties
Osage Nation, Kiowa Tribe, Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, Absentee Shawnee Tribe, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma (closing at midnight), Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma (closing midnight of March 19), Quapaw Tribe, Comanche Nation, Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Shawnee Tribe, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, Pawnee Nation, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma (closing midnight of March 19), Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes, Sac and Fox Nation, Kaw Nation, Delaware Nation, Fort Sill Apache Tribe (closing midnight of March 19), Seneca-Cayuga Nation and Wyandotte Nation.
Osage News reporter Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton contributed to this report.
[This article will be updated as the staff learns of casino closures.]