Photo caption: Osage Casinos to reopen Ponca City location on May 8. Pictured is the Osage Casinos gaming floor in Ponca City in 2015. Osage News File Photo
Osage Casinos will reopen its Ponca City location on Friday after closing in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Osage Casinos in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Bartlesville, Skiatook, Hominy and Pawhuska will reopen on May 15, but not without new strict health guidelines.
“Properties will reopen with occupancy restriction, only one entrance and exit will be allowed, and security will monitor how many guests are allowed on the floor,” said Byron Bighorse, Osage Casinos CEO. “We will open the gaming floors only when we reopen. We are going to bring our hotels online after we open, and we can determine the demand. No food service at this time but we will offer pre-packaged beverage service. Self-service beverage stations will not be utilized until further notice. We will offer limited alcoholic beverages and we are working through our bar areas to determine safe distancing. No banquets or events until further notice.
“I anticipate these coming back as soon as further public restrictions are lifted. Guests 65 and older will be recommended to shelter in place per the state and CDC recommendations. Guests will enter the facilities at their own risk as this virus is not going away and we will all be on safety protocols until further notice,” he said.
The reopening will be guided by a 13-page "Health & Sanitation Program" that closely monitors government policy changes, CDC guidelines, government mandates and public health advancements, he said. Casino management will continue to make changes as necessary or appropriate to the protocols as they monitor the casinos.
On Wednesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he will begin phase two of the state’s reopening on May 15. He began phase one of the reopening on April 24. Elderly and vulnerable citizens should still follow safer-at-home guidelines, he said.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, as of May 7, Osage County has seven active cases of COVID-19 and Ponca City has three active cases. Since the pandemic began, eight people have died in Osage County from the virus.
Bighorse said as part of their reopening guidelines, all employees will be required to wear masks until further notice.
“Guests will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask and we will make them available, but we will not ask anyone to leave if they do not wear a mask,” he said. “Every other machine will be turned off to promote social distancing. These are just some high-level protocols that guests will see when they come to the properties.”
He said Osage Casinos officials are working with their regulators, the Osage Nation Gaming Commission, to ensure all compliance requirements are met and maintained.
“It is the mission of the Osage Nation Gaming Commission to protect the integrity of the Osage Nation gaming activities. More specifically, we do that by protecting the assets of the Osage Casinos and the most important assets are the Osage Casinos employees and our guests,” said Elizabeth Hembree, Gaming Commission Executive Director, in a May 7 email. “The Commission has carefully reviewed the Osage Casinos Health & Sanitation Program and it was approved by the Osage Nation Gaming Commission Board on May 6, 2020.”
She said the National Indian Gaming Commission has provided strict guidelines for reopening all Indian gaming facilities in the country and the Osage gaming commission must complete an extensive checklist noting all regulatory and staffing concerns and public health and safety recommendations.
“Other concerns noted in the guidance include the gaming floor, surveillance, security, cage and vault areas,” she said. “The [Osage gaming commission] is working diligently with Osage Casinos to ensure compliance is achieved while safely reopening all gaming properties.”
Osage Casinos Reopening Timeline:
Ponca City to open May 8 with limited hours of 10 a.m. to midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends with Occupancy restrictions.
Tulsa to open May 15 with limited two shifts working 10 a.m. to midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends with Occupancy restrictions.
Sand Springs to open May 15 with a limit of two shifts working 10 a.m. to midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends with Occupancy restrictions.
Skiatook to open May 15 with limited two shifts working 10 a.m. to midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends with Occupancy restrictions.
Bartlesville to open May 15 with one shift working 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Occupancy restrictions.
Hominy and Pawhuska to open May 15 with one shift working 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Occupancy restrictions.
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said most of the Oklahoma tribes are planning to resume operations soon and a few other tribes have already reopened.
“I personally observed at the Otoe Missouri Tribe’s Seven Clans Casino how different operations will be. Every other gaming machine was turned off and all the table games are closed so that people are not sitting next to each other,” Standing Bear said. “Obviously, the amount of revenue to the tribal casinos operating at half capacity leaves the tribes well short of their budgets, but it is a start. Everyone is doing what they can on health precautions. Health and safety will come first, but we have to lessen the economic damage that has been done and will be done for many more months.”
Tribal casino reopenings statewide
As of May 6, below are the reopening dates for tribal casinos statewide. The Tonkawa Tribe and Otoe-Missouria Tribe has partially reopened.
Opened on May 1: Tonkawa Hotel and Casino
Limited opening on May 2: First Council Casino (Otoe-Missouria Tribe)
Opening on May 7: Seven Clans Chilocco Gasino (Otoe-Missouria Tribe)
Tentatively opening on May 11: Absentee Shawnee
Tentatively opening May 15: Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Kaw Nation, Modoc Tribe
Closed through May 15: Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Sac and Fox Nation, Shawnee Tribe, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, Wyandotte Nation
No reopening dates announced: Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Delaware Nation, Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Fort Sill Apache Tribe, Iowa Tribe, Kickapoo Tribe, Kiowa Tribe, Otoe-Missouria Tribe's Paradise and Perry casinos, Ottawa Tribe, Peoria Tribe, Quapaw Tribe, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, Tonkawa Tribe's Native Lights Casino and Tonkawa Gasino
Osage News Reporter Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton contributed to this report.