After experiencing the vulgar comments and inaccurate claims about my Tribe at a recent hearing in the Missouri Capitol, I’m not shocked that the primary rebuttal to my fact-driven op-ed about our world-class casino project in the Lake of the Ozarks was an attempt to diminish my stature as a woman business executive. With my decades of experience as a businesswoman, I’m overqualified to take on the inaccuracies and generalizations in that opinion piece because the points in it were so poorly argued and especially easy to dismiss.
That’s right. I have only been CEO for a matter of months. Prior to serving as CEO, I was the chief operating officer and have been with Osage Casinos for over 15 years. Unlike Osage River Gaming, I am qualified to run a highly regulated gaming operation – tribal or non-tribal for that matter.
Defending Native Americans against racism is, unfortunately, part of the job. Typically, racism does not appear in serious places like a state capitol and doesn’t come from supposedly serious people as it did with Ron Leone. But here we are. The Senate hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 14 was supposed to be a hearing about whether (1) adding Osage River was an option and (2) if a 14th gaming license would be good for Missouri. Instead, the hearing devolved into an opportunity to discuss why indigenous-owned businesses are bad for Missouri.
Rather than discussing the merits of SJR 14, Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association Executive Director Ron Leone seized the occasion to take shots at Osage Nation, including inaccurate claims that the Osage Nation will pay no taxes. Osage Casinos pays payroll taxes including Social Security, Medicare and federal and state tax withholding.
On average, 90 percent of the workforce employed at similar facilities operated by the Osage Nation are non-tribal members. The unidentified writer of the op-ed claimed these were numbers pulled out of thin air. They are not. They are facts. Furthermore, these non-tribal members employed by Osage Casinos are paid above market rates, pay state and federal income taxes, and pay payroll taxes, in addition to sales taxes.
We have been honest about our payment of taxes. So, I hope others will do the same. For example, certain Lake area real estate developers have used tax increment financing (TIF) to fund all their development projects at the Lake. One of the developers then adds taxing districts forcing customers to pay for things in his development. On top of that, the taxes he does pay are based on the value of the land before he developed it. This is perfectly legal. However, Osage River Gaming is hardly in a position to lecture anyone about paying taxes.
The revenue and taxes our entertainment district will generate will stay local. Osage River Gaming’s revenue will not. The Jefferson City News Tribune Editorial Board agrees. A recent editorial stated:
“For the state’s 13 licensed casinos, state gaming taxes are more than 25 percent of a casino’s total revenue with about a fifth of that amount retained by local governments. A state-regulated gambling boat on the Osage River could generate at least $100 million in revenue and pay about $25 million in taxes with about $5 million going to city and county governments.”
The Osage Nation believes in the communities it resides and invests in. We are a reliable and permanent partner. We will beat $5 million and already are. The Osage Nation is giving back to the local community. Our ongoing efforts include philanthropic contributions to local schools, law enforcement and other first responders, local charities, and community improvement projects. We invest in business employing and helping other Missourians. According to United for Oklahoma, tribal gaming has generated $15.6 billion in economic development, created over 100,000 new jobs and generated over $5 billion in wages in benefits.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held, as recently as 2022 and as far back as the 1880s, that a State’s criminal code extends into tribal lands. Any assertion otherwise is ill-informed and baseless. Despite any claim otherwise, the Osage Nation works with local law enforcement partners here in Oklahoma and will do so in Missouri to ensure those violating the law are punished. Plain and simple.
Furthermore, tribal casinos have actually been linked to a decrease in crime, not an increase. A 2013 study shows rural Oklahoma benefited more from tribal gaming than what it would likely experience from commercial enterprises. A correlation exists that shows violent and property crime both decrease due to the positive economic impact tribal gaming has on local communities.
In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, we not only paid the city $1 million to upgrade its water utilities and wastewater connection system, but we are also nearing completion on a 57,400 square foot entertainment center on a 125-acre lot with 500 slot machines, 100 hotel rooms and 11,800 square foot meeting space. Suggesting Osage Casinos will not build a Class-A establishment is unsupported. Implying I don’t know how much it costs to build one, when I’ve built 3 in the last 5 years, is ludicrous.
The Osage Nation once thrived in Missouri with a population of as many as 200,000 members at its height. In fact, our historical influence in the Lake region is still found today in homages such as City of Osage Beach, Osage County, and School of the Osage. It is due to the Nation’s deep connection to Missouri that we are making this major investment in the state and Lake area communities. It’s also because of the welcoming and enthusiastic reception from the Lake area residents.
Our world-class entertainment center already underway will dramatically expand the Lake-area’s tourism footprint, generating jobs and economic opportunity, and serve as a new revenue engine for the local and state tax base.
And, on a final note, I call on Osage River Gaming and the Lake Ozark Businesses for Fair Competition to identify themselves. What are you afraid of? If your points are so important, why are you hiding? I put my name on my op-ed. Why can’t you?
CEO of Osage Casinos