The Sixth Osage Nation Congress met for its seventh special session on May 6 to pass a resolution authorizing the Gaming Enterprise Board to sign a $9.1 million loan for Osage Casinos to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program.
On May 1, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear issued an executive proclamation calling for the special session to consider the sole special session item, which required Congressional approval due to the loan amount, as well as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity required by the lender, which is Bank of Oklahoma.
The approved resolution – ONCR 20-18 sponsored by Congressional Speaker Joe Tillman – references the Nation’s state of emergency declared by Standing Bear in March as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic spread, which prompted a weeks-long closure of ON government offices to the public and Osage Casinos management closed all seven casino properties as well for spread precautions.
At the federal level, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which allocated billions of dollars for assistance to eligible businesses, states and municipalities also in March. As part of the CARES Act, the PPP was established as a small-business loan program to keep workers employed amid the pandemic.
GEB Chairman Mark Simms sent Standing Bear a letter announcing “Osage Casinos were approved to receive $9.1 million under the (PPP) of the Small Business Administration as a loan under the federal CARES Act. The loan is forgivable if all conditions are met … In order for the (Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise dba Osage Casinos) to borrow the money to receive this loan, the ONGE is required to obtain Congressional authorization pursuant to (Osage gaming law) because the amount is over $500,000 and … because a limited waiver of sovereign immunity is required by the lender.”
According to ONCR 20-18: “The PPP loan amounts are forgivable as long as the loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs and other allowable uses under the CARES Act for mortgage interest, rent and utility costs (not to exceed 25% of the PPP amount) over an 8-week period after the loan is made to statutorily qualifying businesses and employee and compensation levels are maintained.”
The resolution states “the (gaming board) desires and intends to pay full wages and benefits to all employees of its three Casino Hotels and general offices, so that those employees are financially provided for during this crisis.” The three casino properties with hotels are at Tulsa, Ponca City and Skiatook.
News of the PPP loan approval comes nearly two weeks after Osage Casinos furloughed 75 percent of its workforce while the casino closures remained in effect.
Casino management reopened the Ponca City casino first on May 8 and the six remaining properties reopened their gaming floors the following week with limited guest capacities, social distancing and extra cleaning measures in place. On May 28, all three hotels reopened to receive guests.
The single-day special session took place by videoconference as with the 2020 Hun-Kah Session as part of social distancing precautions.
“This emergency special session is being called because there is a limited 10-day window of time available to accept and execute the documents,” Standing Bear said in his executive message.
The Congress also met in executive session that morning with Osage Casinos, management including CEO Byron Bighorse to discuss financial and proprietary information before taking action on the resolution. “We are going to be discussing highly confidential loan documents pertaining to the business of the Nation… This will also allow for the members of Congress that have questions to ask those questions,” Tillman said.
After reviewing the loan-related documents and hearing from casino management, Congresswoman Shannon Edwards said she is supporting the resolution, noting the casinos will be responsible for monitoring the loan money spending and any unused money will be returned to the SBA.
Congressman Scott BigHorse commended the gaming board and casino management “in their due diligence and the relationship with the banking partners in making this (loan) possible.” Congressman John Maker extended similar recognitions including the Executive Branch, adding “I think we need to consider ourselves fortunate these (loans) were available to the Nation.”
ONCR 20-18 passed with a 12-0 vote and the special session adjourned afterward.