The next annual Otoe-Missouria Winter Encampment will take place Saturday, January 25, 2020, at the 7 Clans First Council Event Center in Newkirk, Oklahoma. The Tribe’s economic strength and diversification empower its ability to serve as a steward of Tribal culture. (Photo Courtesy Otoe-Missouria)
According to a recent study completed by the Taylor Policy Group, the Red Rock, Oklahoma-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe’s efforts to diversify its economy have resulted in a massive economic impact to the state of Oklahoma and surrounding areas, including more than $45 million in direct compensation to nearly a thousand employees across the Tribe’s various enterprises.
Furthermore, the study found that when measured in value added, the Tribe can claim an annual total contribution of $156 million and 1,705 jobs to the Oklahoma and Kansas economies. The Otoe-Missouria’s economic activity generated more than $5.7 million in sales, income and social insurance tax revenue for Oklahoma’s state and local governments.
This is largely due to the Tribe’s efforts to strategically diversify its economic development activities as market and regional forces have changed the business landscape in northern Oklahoma, where the Tribe is located. This was particularly important in the wake of events like the opening of the Kansas Star Casino in December 2011, which directly competes with the Otoe-Missouria’s gaming enterprises and led to a decline in gaming revenues. But by building up their online lending and other businesses, the Tribe has been able to strengthen their financial position even despite this reduction in revenues from a pillar of their economy.
While the Tribe is governed by a 7-member Tribal Council, vested with powers to oversee the Tribe’s assets, pass ordinances, and delegate authority to other bodies to do the work of the Tribe, key to the Tribe’s economic efforts are several boards, committees, and commissions that are charged with governing, regulating, and advising their respective departments and businesses.
These include the Otoe-Missouria Gaming Commission, the Otoe-Missouria Consumer Finance Services Regulatory Commission, and the Otoe-Missouria Development Authority (OMDA) Board — all of which are critical to the Tribe’s development because they oversee the enterprises which comprise the economic engine currently driving the Tribe forward.
John Shotton, who has served as Chairman of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe since 2007, told Native Business Magazine that “the businesses these three independent bodies oversee are what keep the Otoe-Missouria from being dependent on federal funding and what allow us to provide essential government services for our people.”
“Because of that, they are essential to our self-determination, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance,” Shotton said.
For 35 years, the Tribe has been active in Indian gaming, opening its first bingo operation in April 1984. Months after its opening, the New York Times described the Otoe-Missouria’s bingo operation as “the largest bingo parlor in the world,” in an article detailing how patrons from Michigan to Texas would bus to Red Rock for a weekend of gaming.
From there, the Tribe expanded, and it now owns and operates five gaming facilities, including three casinos as well as two convenience store and gas station casinos. In their flagship facility, the Tribe boasts a 146-room hotel, an events center, an indoor waterpark, and a travel plaza. These facilities not only generate revenue for the Tribe and its members, they also employ tribal members in a variety of positions including on the gaming floor, in food and beverage operations, in security, and in the facilities’ general management.
The Tribe’s gaming enterprises also generate economic revenue for the state of Oklahoma, amounting to roughly $2 million in 2017.
The Tribe has also been a leader in the online financial services sector, primarily through its e-commerce consumer lending companies AWL, Inc. and Great Plains Lending, LLC. And in 2016, the Tribe purchased the MacFarlane Group, one of its longstanding service providers that provided portfolio management, software development, marketing, and call center support for its lending businesses.
With this purchase, the Tribe has demonstrated the evolution of a new business sector and became a model for other Tribal lending enterprises across Indian Country. Specifically, it showed the natural business progression that occurs when a Tribe enters a specialized business relying on non-Tribal partners, develops the necessary expertise to expand their footprint, and, eventually, gains the capital and knowledge needed to assume control over more elements of the business chain.
In addition to these pillars of the Tribe’s economic development, the Otoe-Missouria also owns and operates a number of other businesses, including 7C Land & Cattle LLC, which operates a more than 900-acre ranch that supports 600-900 head of Black Angus cattle. They also operate PK Services, which delivers gas to residential, farm, and commercial customers as well as providing maintenance and servicing of private systems; and Courier Services, which transports packages.
All told, according to the study, the Otoe-Missouria’s enterprises make the Tribe the third largest employer in Oklahoma’s Kay and Noble Counties, where all of their operations are located. Furthermore, the study found that these operations have a direct impact of $79.9 million, an indirect impact of $37.1 million, and an induced impact of $39.5 million on Oklahoma and Kansas.
“This money is spent and invested locally,” said Chairman Shotton. “It goes into infrastructure that benefits our Tribe and the surrounding areas, including public goods and services like water treatment and vocational training.”
“It also brings out-of-state money here into Oklahoma, which helps to build and strengthen the economies of both the Tribe and the state,” Shotton continued. “99 percent of our lending businesses’ revenue and 67 percent of our casino revenue comes from outside of Oklahoma, but most of our payroll is paid to local residents.”
As a whole, the report found that the Otoe-Missouria Tribe’s government and enterprises has emerged as an engine of capital growth, building long-lived assets that continue to generate revenue and increase in value. They have allowed the Tribe to revitalize their infrastructure and facilities, including $4.4 million in a water treatment plant, $6 million in waterpark and hotel expansions, and investments in their gaming facilities, cattle company, office spaces, and housing.
They have also made significant improvements in human capital, funding programs that strengthen individual health, family integrity, and members’ skills and education.
“These businesses have transformed our Tribe, funded our infrastructure, and bettered the quality of life for people not just in our Tribe but in the surrounding areas,” Shotton said. “That’s a win-win-win.”