Congress, Executive branches debate gaming law amendments, potential impacts on bank loans

Chief Standing Bear and Gaming Enterprise Board say new law will put Nation at risk. Majority of Congress disagrees

The loan to pay for the Osage Casinos expansions of Pawhuska and Bartlesville casinos is through the Bank of Oklahoma. Courtesy Phot/Shutterstock

A Congressional bill that amends the Gaming Reform Act is causing a continued debate among Osage officials and triggering concerns about its impact on the Nation’s bank loans.

In early July, during the Sixth Special Session, Congress passed bill ONCA 23-73 (sponsored by Congresswoman Jodie Revard), which contained several amendments to the Nation’s gaming law including a mandate “to prohibit a statement to retain all additional net revenue by the Gaming Enterprise in the Annual Plan.”

In other words, the Nation’s government will receive all excess gaming net revenue from the Nation’s seven Osage Casinos operations instead of that money going back into casino coffers.

Revard said ONCA 23-73 contained other changes to the gaming law including an amended definition of net revenue, definition of operating expenses, to require the true-up transaction, and to amend the board meeting requirements. Eight other Congress members signed on as co-sponsors of ONCA 23-73 including Scott BigHorse, Congressional Speaker Alice Goodfox, Otto Hamilton, Billy Keene, Brandy Lemon, Whitney Red Corn, Second Speaker Pam Shaw and Paula Stabler. 

On July 6, ONCA 23-73 passed with 9 “yes” votes and three “no” votes.

In response, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear vetoed the bill, but the Congress voted 9-3 again to override his veto.

According to Standing Bear’s veto message, he issued a warning that ONCA 23-73 could impact the Nation’s financial standing when it comes to banking loans.

“I am vetoing ONCA 23-73 … because it puts the credit of the Nation and its entities at risk and likely causes an event of default under the Osage Casino’s loan agreement with its lenders, which would obligate the Nation to assume an immediately due, although previously non-existent, liability. Officials of the Nation have a fiduciary responsibility to the Nation and its People. Included in that responsibility is the obligation to preserve and protect the credit and other assets of the Nation, including the fiduciary duty to avoid unnecessary and unlawfully incurring liabilities on behalf of the Nation.”

The lender referenced in Standing Bear’s veto message is the Bank of Oklahoma.

Revard said ONCA 23-73 was a collaborative work effort with fellow Congress members Shaw, Stabler and Lemon, as well as other comments and discussions since the February hearings of the Congressional Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee. The committee investigation and hearings focused on Osage Casinos management expense activities, which included public hearings with casino management, as well as current and former Gaming Enterprise Board members interviewed.

Congressman Eli Potts, who is also a banking professional, said he voted “no” for ONCA 23-73 because “this bill, I believe, will interfere with our loan covenant with the Bank of Oklahoma and that’s not a road I’m willing to go down … Until we have that debt paid off, I believe we have to abide by the agreements that we in this body have approved. Despite claims that we are debt-free, we have approximately $7 million in debt, folks. Until we have that paid off, I think we are bound to the agreements … I won’t get into too much of it because it is confidential, but it is pretty simple for me to read … If we go messing with what net revenue comes to us or the bank’s collateral, I guarantee you BOK is going to view that as a breach of our covenant … We said we’ll agree to those loan docs and now we’re trying to change it.”

Keene referred to a confidential letter from Bank of Oklahoma raising concerns about ONCA 23-73’s language. In response, Keene said the letter did not contain definite language that the Nation was in default of the loan documents at the time.

“There’s not one statement in this bank letter that states ‘if you do X, we will do Y’, they speak in general platitudes, vague assumptions, and one thing that really caught my eye … we’re in good financial shape, we make a lot of money, banks like making money too, they’re not going to walk away from a really strong person who makes a lot of money or an entity … There’s nothing in this letter that’s definitive, I read contracts like this for a living too (as an attorney) … What this does is put the onus back on our gaming board to do more work, that’s all it does.”

Lemon said she agreed with Keene’s comments and said she would not buy into the veto message language and added “the biggest piece that is giving the most heartburn is not going to happen today, not going to happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen until 120 days after the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), which gives us time to renegotiate the situation that folks have been talking about that we can’t do.”

Congress convened for its Seventh Special Session on July 31, to consider several items, including appropriation matters. The proclamation received sufficient votes to add bill ONCA 23-80 (sponsored by Potts), which sought to amend ONCA 23-73’s alternate effective date “to give the Gaming Enterprise more time to negotiate terms with its lending facility.”

After consideration, ONCA 23-80 failed with the same 9-3 Congressional vote on Aug. 2. For more Congressional information on sessions, committees and to view filed legislative bills/ resolutions, visit the Legislative Branch website at: 


  • 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.