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Osage Nation prepares to move on casino-hotels

Robert Smith

Pending approval of plans in September by the Osage Nation Congress, the construction of two new casino and hotel complexes is set to move forward, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear explained last Friday.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs on July 17 announced it had approved two land-into-trust applications from the Osage Nation for casino projects. The applications included a 2014 application to transfer into trust about 125 acres near Bartlesville for a casino/hotel/meeting facility project, and a 2016 application to transfer into trust about 63 acres in the Pawhuska area on which casino, hotel and meeting spaces can be developed.

West of Bartlesville, the Osage Nation is planning to build a 57,400-square-foot casino and a hotel with 150 rooms and about 11,800 square feet of meeting space, according to the BIA. A Pawhuska casino and hotel are to be built across Highway 60/99 from the current casino site.

The BIA said in a news release July 17 that it anticipated the trust application approvals would “provide the Nation with significant economic development opportunities.”

“I congratulate Principal Chief Standing Bear and the Osage people on this achievement,” Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tara Sweeney said in the BIA news release. “Your success is a testament to your determination to bring greater prosperity to the Osage Nation now and for generations to come.”

Chief Standing Bear told the Journal-Capital he had spoken with the chairman of the Osage Nation’s Gaming Enterprise Board, and had been informed that the board hopes to have the two new hospitality complexes, at Pawhuska and Bartlesville, built at the same time, using the same crew and buying materials in bulk to keep costs down.

The Gaming Enterprise Board hopes to have both complexes open within two years, but there had been no decision yet on which one will open first, Standing Bear said. Plans for the construction, and regarding the number of new jobs to be created, are to be discussed in September with the Osage Nation Congress, he said.

Standing Bear pointed out that the existing Osage Casino in Pawhuska is a double-wide trailer. He said that structure may be donated to the Pawhuska Indian Village.

“I’ve heard that. They’ve talked to me about it. I fully support that,” he said.

Asked if the current Pawhuska casino might become a community center building of some kind, Standing Bear said he did not think so. He explained that a new, substantially larger Wakon Iron Hall and a chapel are soon to be built in the Pawhuska Indian Village. If the existing casino is donated to the Indian Village, it will probably be for a business venture of some kind — something other than gaming, he said.

In the BIA news release, Chief Standing Bear thanked federal officials for approving “our applications after they languished for nearly a decade in the dust bins of the federal bureaucracy.” The chief also anticipated that the new businesses will help with the region’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Randy Ellis of The Oklahoman contributed to this report.