A committee of the Osage Nation Congress has slated three days of hearings for 15 witnesses as part of its investigation into the spending habits and protocols of higher-ups at the Nation’s gaming enterprise.
In all, the Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee has set aside 24 hours to hear testimony from Feb. 7 through Feb. 9. The witness list includes former casino Chief Executive Officer Byron Bighorse, whose expense reports between January 2019 through December 2021 alarmed legislators for their extravagance: Bighorse charged nearly $400,000 to Osage Casinos in that time span, spending much of it on expensive dinners, drinks, travel, golf and clothing while generally failing to report whom he was entertaining.
The Osage Nation – not the casinos – is ultimately responsible for compliance with the federal laws governing gambling operations on Native American land, hence the Congress’s interest in the behavior and accounting at the casinos.
The National Indian Gaming Association maintains a list of 185 “Notices of Violations” that it has issued since 1997, but the Osage Nation has never appeared on it. Among the violations it has found at other tribes, the Osage News could not find a single incidence of exorbitant executive expenses being at the center of a violation finding; most violations occur when tribes fail to properly file reports with the NIGC, fail to properly vet employees, or stray from the regulations in terms of the specific games a tribe offers.
Tribes are limited in how they can spend casino revenue, but that applies to net revenue not gross revenue – in other words, the distribution that casinos make to the parent tribe after all expenses.
The Commerce Committee hearings will kick off at 9 a.m. Feb. 7 with nine called witnesses – who may or may not attempt to quash the subpoenas – including:
- Bighorse and his wife, Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s daughter Jennifer Bighorse, the former casino marketing director;
- Casino Chief Financial Officer Tim Steinke;
- Current casino CEO Kimberly Pearson (who was elevated to the position when Bighorse resigned in December);
- Casino Marketing Director Mike McGuire;
- Bighorse’s executive assistant Kasi Stumpff;
- Casino Assistant Controller Jake Taylor;
- Former casino Chief Operating Officer Joe Cooper; and
- Chief Standing Bear’s executive assistant Sheryl Decker.
On Feb. 8, the witness list contracts to two people, both regulators:
- Osage Gaming Commission Director Elizabeth Hembree, whose agency has been investigating the expense scandal; and
- Patrick O’Brien, Osage Casinos’ director of compliance.
Feb. 9 will concentrate on the Gaming Enterprise Board, which oversees casino operations and approved Bighorse’s golden parachute – a $600,000 after-tax bonus paid out after he resigned. Those witnesses are:
- Longtime board chairman Mark Simms, who is currently the secretary-treasurer of the board;
- Board member Julie Malone;
- Current Board Chairman Geoff Hager; and
- Mark Revard, who chaired the enterprise board from November 2021 to April 2022, but was not reappointed to the post by Chief Standing Bear. Revard had raised concerns about executive expenses and said his questions were largely rebuffed by his fellow board members. Said Revard last month: “I ran into roadblocks and stalling and headwinds – not from the C-suite, so to speak, but more from the board.”