Community , Government , Business

Osage Casinos furloughs more than 75 percent of its workforce during pandemic

With all seven of its properties shuttered since mid-March due to COVID-19, Osage Casinos has had to furlough more than 75 percent of its employees.

On April 15, Osage Casinos Chief Executive Officer Byron Bighorse confirmed via email that more than 900 employees have been furloughed due to the extended closure.

“Following the City of Tulsa’s guidelines, Osage Casinos has continued to suspend operations since March 18,” Bighorse wrote. “Due to the financial limitations of keeping all seven locations closed, we were forced to institute a furlough of non-essential hourly employees. They continue to be employees of the casino and receive benefits; however, they are eligible to file for unemployment during this time.

“The work we do through Osage Casinos brings critical funding and resources to the Osage Nation and we look forward to the day when we can resume operations. However, through this global health crisis, we know it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the safety of our employees and guests. This has been the hardest challenge of operating Osage Casinos and Hotels, and I am looking forward to the day that all my employees can come back to work.”

Among the departments classified as essential are security and surveillance. However, Bighorse confirmed that the furloughs are across every department and at all seven casinos.

According to a study published April 7 by Meister Economic Consulting, the virus is responsible for displacing 296,000 tribal gaming employees nationwide, with the numbers continuing to shift as casinos continue to stay dark. As of April 15, all tribal casinos across Oklahoma remain closed in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Mark Simms, chairman of the Osage Nation’s Gaming Enterprise Board, said the board was looking at taking additional preventative measures once public health conditions allow for the casinos to be reopened safely. Along with plans to have more hand sanitizer available for patrons, Simms said social distancing will be taken into account with additional space put between games on the floor.

In the meantime, he is hoping for the virus to peak soon in order to minimize how long employees are forced to take furlough days.     

“We’re hoping to open back up in May,” Simms said. “This was a hard decision. You’re having to furlough people and their families as well.

“It makes me want to cry.”