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Byron Bighorse named interim Osage Casino CEO

The Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board selected Byron Bighorse as interim Osage Casino CEO for the Nation’s seven-casinos on Oct. 15.

Bighorse (Osage) was general manager of the Sand Springs Osage Casino up until the announcement was made. The week after his selection dismissals of four manager-level employees, including the casinos’ human resources director and the Tulsa casino GM, was announced. Bighorse then appointed two interim casino general managers for the casinos in Sand Springs and Tulsa.

On Oct. 15 after a five-hour executive session, the five-member gaming board voted unanimously for Bighorse to serve as CEO. The vote comes one week after the ON Gaming Commission suspended the gaming licenses for former interim CEO Joe Olujic and two other casino management officials pending an investigation of allegations that the three men committed Osage gaming law violations.

According to his LinkedIn page, Bighorse’s tenure with Osage Casino started in 2006 when it was the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino. In addition to serving as GM for the Sand Springs casino, Bighorse also worked as the special events manager. His education includes Tulsa Community College and Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. Bighorse is also the son-in-law to Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and is married to Osage Casino marketing director Jennifer (Standing Bear) Bighorse and is brother-in-law to the interim Tulsa GM Joseph Standing Bear.

At its day-long Oct. 15 meeting, the gaming board initially considered a motion to name Bighorse as interim CEO after board member Dawn Pratt Harrington made the motion, which died for a lack of a second. Later, the board began its five-hour executive session, which stretched past 6 p.m. The gaming board considered proprietary matters in executive session with several Executive Branch members and members of Congress attending, but as the day went on, the executive session meeting crowd shrunk with the last portion of the executive session used to consider personnel matters.

Afterward, the gaming board reopened the meeting to the public at approximately 6:20 p.m. for remaining board motions to consider. At that time, board member John “Trey” Goldesberry said: “I move that we appoint Byron Bighorse to the interim CEO position.” Harrington seconded the motion and the board approved the motion with a 5-0 vote without any discussion.

Casino personnel changes

In an Oct. 20 email to casino management staff, Bighorse announced the following personnel changes: Joseph Standing Bear is now interim GM of the Tulsa Osage Casino and Dan Marling is now the Sand Springs casino GM where Bighorse worked.

Joseph Standing Bear was previously assistant GM at the Tulsa casino and replaces former Tulsa GM Steven Penhall. Marling was assistant GM at the Sand Springs casino.

Also that week, the Osage News learned four individuals were terminated from their Osage Casino management positions, according to anonymous sources. Those four individuals are:

– Steven Penhall, General Manager, Tulsa, Oct. 21
– Robert Bookout, Human Resources Director, Central Offices, Oct. 22
– John Arnesen, Hospitality General Manager, Central Offices, Oct. 22
– Kevin Brown, Food and Beverage Manager, Ponca City, Oct. 22

The gaming board and Bighorse did not respond to requests for comment on the terminated individuals.

It’s unknown when the gaming board plans to permanently fill the CEO position, which would include an advertising period for prospective applicants.


Benny Polacca

Original Publish Date: 2014-11-14 00:00:00

Benny Polacca

Title: Senior Reporter


Instagram: @bpolacca

Topic Expertise: Government, Tribal Government, Community

Languages spoken: English, basic knowledge of Spanish and French

Benny Polacca (Hopi/ Havasupai/ Pima/ Tohono O’odham) started working at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter in Pawhuska, Okla., where he’s covered various stories and events that impact the Osage Nation and Osage people. Those newspaper contributions cover a broad spectrum of topics and issues from tribal government matters to features. As a result, Polacca has gained an immeasurable amount of experience in covering Native American affairs, government issues and features so the Osage readership can be better informed about the tribal current affairs the newspaper covers.

Polacca is part of the Osage News team that was awarded the Native American Journalists Association's Elias Boudinet Free Press Award in 2014 and has won numerous NAJA media awards, as well as awards from the Oklahoma Press Association and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter, for storytelling coverage and photography.

Polacca earned his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and also participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota where he was introduced to the basics of journalism and worked with seasoned journalists there and later at The Forum daily newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. area where he worked as the weeknight reporter.


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