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Osage Casinos provides construction tour of Pawhuska casino and hotel

Scheduled to be completed later this year, the new casino and hotel property will feature a gaming floor with room for up to 250 electronic games, a four-story hotel tower with 47 guest rooms and suites, a pool and spa, fitness center, meeting room space and food and beverage amenities.

Amid the supply chain issues impacting building projects globally, progress continues on the Pawhuska Osage Casino & Hotel and gaming officials provided a construction tour on Feb. 23.

That morning, casino officials – along with Assistant Principal Chief RJ Walker – greeted area news media outlets and led the tour throughout the casino and hotel’s interior. With the supply chain issue impacting both the Pawhuska and nearby Bartlesville casino projects, both properties could be opening by year’s end.

Osage Casinos CEO Kimberly Pearson calls Pawhuska “the headquarters of the Osage Nation and this has been a project of about 12 years in the making, from purchasing the land to placing the land into (federal) trust and now to actually starting the construction. The Nation ran into some supply chain issues much like the rest of the country that delayed us by roughly a year, but we are now back on schedule and just excited to bring this facility to the Nation.”

Built on more than 60 acres, the new Pawhuska Osage Casino Hotel property will feature a gaming floor with room for up to 250 electronic games, a four-story hotel tower with 47 guest rooms and suites, a pool and spa, fitness center, meeting room space and food and beverage amenities.

Located just east of the U.S. 60 and State Highway 99 three-way intersection, the Pawhuska casino and hotel is also expected to help meet demands for more area hotels to accommodate tourists and visitors – Osage and non-Osage – who visit the city and the Osage Nation for business, leisure, personal and cultural reasons to name a few.

“I have been a part of this project since the very beginning and it just makes me so proud to bring this to the Osage people,” said Pearson, who was previously Chief Operations Officer and Executive Director for the casinos. “Pawhuska is the beating heart of the Osage Nation, it is our headquarters and this is just kind of a shining star for us (with) everybody coming to visit the Nation, meeting with the Chief and Assistant Chief, our Congress. It is a fabulous place to stay to have meetings and we just couldn’t be more proud.”

In addition to tourist crowds already visiting, Pearson noted interest in the area is expected to increase with the Martin Scorsese-directed “Killers of the Flower Moon” film’s release with much of the filming taking place in Pawhuska and other areas across the reservation. No film release date has been announced, but is expected sometime in 2023.

Pearson acknowledged the area hotel room shortage and said “this is a great opportunity for us to bring something and bring something a little bit different, something a little bit modern to the area and so I think this is going to help not only the city of Pawhuska, but the Nation.”

When the Pawhuska casino and hotel amenities open, gaming employees will vacate the current casino, which opened as part of the Nation’s former Osage Million Dollar Casino enterprise in 2003. It opened in five connected modular buildings inside the Pawhuska Village boundaries just across U.S. 60 from the new forthcoming casino/ hotel. In July 2015, the Pawhuska casino relocated into new modular buildings to replace the originals due to deteriorating floor conditions.

The new hotel/ casino amenities include meeting space that can be used as a single open ballroom or split into two smaller conference rooms, which Pearson said would accommodate special events. “I think that’s been a need in the community for a while to have business meetings, also weddings, the Nation has many, many social events and this will be an opportunity to give something the community hasn’t had before.”

Pawhuska Osage Casino General Manager Mason Shackelford led the tour of the Pawhuska Casino and Hotel interior showing where the amenities will be once construction is complete. He said the gaming floor measures 12,000 square feet for 250 machines, which is an increase from 179 machines at the current location. He said the banquet room space is 7,800 square feet total and there is outside space located by the pool/ spa for parties or get-togethers as well.

“I’ve been the GM at Pawhuska for two years and this whole time, the employees have been waiting and waiting and now it’s here and everybody, the guests, come in and ask when it’s going to be done and we’re just happy that it’s here,” Shackelford said. “We currently have around 39 employees and we’re estimated to be bringing in 120-130 total employees for this building, so about triple that (current number).”  

Walker said “It’s been a difficult process to get through construction and we’re not the only ones dealing with that. The Osage Casinos have been working on expanding our casino operations for decades now really and we’ve gotten to this point where we are ready and able to build a casino in Pawhuska that is the capital of the Osage Nation.”

“We’re excited about being able to showcase this facility – Pawhuska is literally a national tourist location and a lot of the people come to the community not only to see Pioneer Woman obviously, she’s here, there’s different things going on,” Walker said, noting the government campus, and the Nation’s museum.

As for what the new casino means to the community, Walker, who grew up in Pawhuska, said “the Nation has been bursting at the seams for 10 or 15 years. The growth has been incredible, not only just within the Nation’s government itself, but the casino operations have been so successful and have grown and we finally got to this point where we are able to build a casino in the capital of the Osage Nation … It’s going to be a major benefit to the community and the city of Pawhuska.”

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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