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HomeGovernmentBusinessGroundbreaking ceremony marks the start of building the Bartlesville Osage Casino Hotel

Groundbreaking ceremony marks the start of building the Bartlesville Osage Casino Hotel

Photo caption: Officials from the Osage Nation, Osage Casinos and the Gaming Enterprise Board break ground on the new site of Osage Casino Hotel in Bartlesville. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – A day that took years to come finally arrived: The Osage Nation broke ground on a new Osage Casino Hotel here along U.S. 60 about three miles west of downtown.

Amid the day’s sunny sky and humid conditions, Osage Nation gaming and government officials, along with Bartlesville area community members and residents gathered under a white event tent set up at the future casino site on June 15 for a 10 a.m. groundbreaking ceremony. Officials from the Nation, casino management and city delivered congratulatory remarks on the milestone for the Nation after years-long efforts to place the Bartlesville casino land into federal trust status for gaming purposes were completed in 2020.

When construction is completed next year, the new Bartlesville Osage Casino Hotel, built on more than 125 acres, will feature: a gaming floor for 500 electronic games, a 101-room hotel tower with 15 suites, a 10,560 square-foot meeting space, pool/ hot tub and a fitness center. The casino will also feature two food/ beverage spaces and dedicated parking for buses and trucks.

Later the same day, Osage Casinos hosted a similar groundbreaking event in Pawhuska for its respective hotel/ casino project also slated to open next year. The land-into-trust applications for Bartlesville and Pawhuska were first submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse welcomed attendees to both project groundbreaking events. “We received approval for both applications last summer and immediately got to work on adjusting the scope of the properties to accommodate today’s construction costs. Demand in both (casino) markets continues to rise and I am proud that we worked together as an enterprise to see this come to fruition,” Bighorse said.  

The current Bartlesville casino opened in 2006 under the former Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino name on a remote property accessible by county roads located approximately five miles west of State Highway 123 and four miles south of U.S. 60. With the new location closer to Bartlesville city limits and easily accessible from U.S. 60, ON government and gaming officials anticipate the new property will draw more customers and tourists visiting the region, thereby increasing revenue to the Nation, which pays for many government services and departments that promote education, culture and language preservation endeavors.    

Gaming Enterprise Board Mark Simms acknowledged the ON Congress and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear during the event for their work and input in bringing the project to reality.

“We can go to this casino easier than (the current one) up on the hill. This will have a hotel, swimming pool, all the amenities that you can think of. As chairman of the board, we’ve worked with the casino and we have come through this pandemic which was pretty rough on all of us including you, so I would like to think that we would all work together as we have been in order to build this beautiful casino that we’re going to have now,” Simms said.

Standing Bear said he felt blessed to witness history through the years with the Nation’s evolution especially with gaming. “In 1990 when I took a first official role with our Osage Nation as Assistant Chief (under the former government), we were trying to figure out who gets to use the one vehicle we had, which was controlled by the CHR program. I remember my cousins too working out at the bingo (hall) we had and trying to figure out how it all ran because I was working with other tribes at the time and here in Osage, we were behind in our development. One of my dear cousins, who’s passed away now, said at the end of the night, we’d put all the money out and they’d take 10% out as their pay and that’s how we distributed it every night and we’d give the rest to the tribe and they’d deposit it,” he said, quipping the present-day Gaming Commission would love that story.

After leaving tribal office for several years, Standing Bear noted: “I watched many tribal leaders on our council, many directors, I watched as we overcame hurdle after hurdle, we had our debates and arguments, a lot of emotions, and I saw how we kept going forward … We were talking about the 1906 Act when I first got elected. We were looking back and knew some of those original allottees and we would consult with them … We should always do that to know our history, who we are. But what I love seeing is how we evolve and how we keep going forward and you all right now are living proof of all that came before us and you are the living proof of how it’s going to be in the future. So, let’s keep working together.”

Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt, who has served in Congress since 2014, also echoed praising the years-long efforts to place the two land parcels in federal trust. “I appreciate the work that was done in order to place this land into trust, thank you to the past gaming board, the current board, (Osage Casinos Chief Operations Officer Kimberly) Pearson, Legal Counsel Terry Mason Moore … others that have been involved, it’s a long process and I look forward to the days to come that gets better at the Department of Interior.”

Pratt also acknowledged Congress members in attendance at one or both groundbreaking events including Alice Goodfox, Eli Potts, Pam Shaw, Paula Stabler, Scott BigHorse, Joe Tillman, Billy Keene and Jodie Revard. Other ON officials attending both events that day include Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn and GEB member Mark Revard.

Regent Bank Market President and Bartlesville City Councilman Trevor Dorsey attended and represented the Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce that day. He said the organization has “enjoyed a great relationship with the Osage Nation since 2006. Some of the things the Chamber promotes is economic growth, pro-business environment, promoting tourism… I think we align pretty good with the Osage Nation. We’re very excited to see this groundbreaking today which we know will further economic development, create jobs in this market and further help the Osage Nation.”

Expected completion of both Pawhuska and Bartlesville projects is in fall 2022. “We anticipate adding approximately 50-75 new full-time positions between both projects,” Bighorse said. As for the current casino structures that will be vacant when the new casinos open, Bighorse said: “We are still discussing those options and have not made any decisions at this time.”

Las Vegas-based Marnell Architecture and Tulsa-based Crossland Construction are working on designing and building the Pawhuska and Bartlesville casino projects. Marnell designed the newer casinos built at Skiatook, Ponca City and Tulsa and Crossland was the general contractor for the Tulsa casino and hotel construction. Bighorse also said the casino hired White Buffalo LLC as the owner’s representative on both projects.


Benny Polacca

Original Publish Date: 2021-07-06 00:00:00


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Benny Polacca
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.

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