Osage Casinos officials discuss impacts to business during February winter storms

Two weeks of back-to-back wintry inclement weather prompted closures and delayed openings at some of the seven Osage Casinos during February due to road conditions and for employee and customer safety.

The stretch of inclement weather started with Feb. 7 freezing rain and icy conditions that covered much of Oklahoma including the Osage Reservation where the casinos are located. The following week included three rounds of snowfall covering the entire state of Oklahoma Feb. 14-17 and dangerous life-threatening windchill conditions that dipped below 0 at times.

In addition to icy roads, the snow and bitter cold temperatures also brought on rolling outages in some parts of Oklahoma to avoid massive service interruptions as cautioned by the Southwest Power Pool, according to several local media outlets. The cold temperatures prompted many households and businesses to use more electricity and gas to keep their interiors warm, but the temperatures also caused many municipal and household water pipe breaks and some city/ town water supplies to be at risk due to increased usage as well.

Those same wintry weather conditions prompted similar closures, remote working days and delayed openings for the Osage Nation government on several days during those two weeks.

Osage Casinos management discussed the impacts of the operations during the Gaming Enterprise Board’s Feb. 17 meeting also held by videoconferencing due to the snowfall.

“Wow, the snow is here, so we’re going to try and get through this thing, hopefully you guys all have hot water, I hope everyone has heat,” said Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse. “This is the first time I’ve seen rolling blackouts during the wintertime in my lifetime, so hopefully everyone is safe.”

“It’s been a very interesting last couple of days,” said Kimberly Pearson, the COO for the casinos. “We have had to intermittently shut down some of our properties, all of them have been able to come back at one time or the other.”

Road conditions prompted closures at the Bartlesville and Sand Springs casinos during the storms due to the icy or heavy snow-covered roads leading to the casinos, for example. That morning, Pearson said management was waiting for county road crews to plow the road to the Sand Springs casino, which is located in the hills north of U.S. 412 off North 129th Avenue. The Bartlesville casino is also located in the country about eight miles west of downtown and is accessible by two country roads from State Highway 123 or U.S. 60.

Julie Malone, GEB vice chair, asked about other impacts to the casinos. Pearson said the Skiatook and Hominy casinos also intermittently closed due to the weather conditions. At the Ponca City casino, there were frozen water pipes that needed attention, but it did not affect gaming operations and there were generator issues at Skiatook, which prompted a brief closure, Pearson said.

“All in all, I will tell you our gamers are persistent, they have still (been coming to the casinos). It surprises me every time I get a headcount on how many people are out at our properties,” Pearson said. “We are pretty much monitoring (the weather situation) hourly, so far our employees have been diligent. At our hotel properties, we’ve been able to put people up to allow them to stay and be able to work their shifts, so everybody’s worked very hard to stay the course during this really crazy winter that we’ve had.”

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