Miami, Oklahoma, Mayor Rudy Schultz welcomes casinos, saying they provide above-average pay and excellent benefits for employees. A proposal to bring three casinos to Arkansas, including one in Pine Bluff, is being considered.
THE ISSUE: Casino gambling THE IMPACT: Some believe that a proposed casino resort in Pine Bluff will bring jobs and a stronger local economy.
Officials in two communities that have casinos consider their towns to have a better quality of life as a result.
Pine Bluff could be getting a resort and casino that would be one of three licensed by the state under a plan offered by a group called Driving Arkansas Forward. Sixty-five percent of the tax revenue generated would go toward the State Highway and Transportation Department fund to pay for road and bridge improvements.
Pine Bluff and Jefferson County officials joined members of the business community last week to kick off what they hope will be the beginning of an economic transformation for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. During a meeting at the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, John Berrey, the Chief of the Quapaw Indian Tribe, laid out plans for the construction of a resort and casino in the county that would create 1,000 new jobs.
Greenville, Mississippi, is home to a Harlow's Casino Resort & Spa and a Trop Casino Greenville. Located 103 miles southeast of Pine Bluff, across the Mississippi River from Chicot County, Arkansas, Greenville has a population of 31,500 residents. It is the largest town in Washington County, which has a population of 47,300.
Cary Karlson is the executive director of the Washington County, Mississippi, Economic Alliance. He said the casinos have improved his community through providing jobs, economic activity and increased tax revenues and that they have not hurt existing businesses.
“Both casinos serve different markets,” Karlson said. “Harlow's serves more people from Louisiana and Arkansas. The Trop casino brings in more local people.”
Harlows employed 429 people, and the Trop Casino employed 288 people as of last year, he said. A combined total of 717 jobs would not exist without those two casinos, Karlson said.
“What has hurt is China and the (North American Free Trade Agreement) taking jobs,” Karlson said. “We have been working to rebuild our workforce with our remaining companies.”
Karlson said that both Harlow's Casino Resort & Spa and the Trop Casino have made significant financial investments in their facilities through adding restaurants and an event center. Those casinos have generated tax revenue that goes to the Washington County government and to the Greenville School District, he said.
Karlson declined to comment on how Pine Bluff might be impacted if the Quapaw tribe opens a casino there.
“It is not fair for me to give an opinion on what's going to happen in another community,” Karlson said.
Miami, Oklahoma, is home to the Buffalo Run Casino, High Winds Casino, Prairie Moon Casino, Prairie Sun Casino, the Quapaw Casino and the Stables Casino. Miami has a population of 13,500 residents and is 324 miles northwest of Pine Bluff.
Miami Oklahoma Mayor Rudy Schultz welcomes these casinos, saying they provide above-average pay and excellent benefits for employees.
“The health benefits, in particular, are important because they result in increased utilization of our local rural hospital, which struggles like all rural hospitals,” Schultz said via email. “The casinos have also been generous supporters of our local schools. I am not personally or generally aware of any significant problems related to the casinos.”
Steve Gilbert is the president and CEO of the Miami, Oklahoma, Chamber of Commerce. He said that Ottawa County, Oklahoma, “enjoys the fact that we are made up of the historic boundaries of 10 sovereign indian tribes.”
“Each tribal government provides a wide-range of programs and services to tribal members and their families,” Gilbert said via email. “In addition, many tribes here have diversified and sophisticated business enterprises that they operate, including gaming, but much, much more. For the Quapaw Tribe, this is especially true. Due to our local tribal governments, the citizens of Miami and Ottawa County, and the region, enjoy good jobs with benefits, and tribal enterprises have a significant and positive economic impact on our local economy. In Miami, Oklahoma, we are committed to collaboration and partnerships with our local Tribal governments.”
At a joint meeting of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club and the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club, Carolyn Blakely asked Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley how he feels about the prospect of a casino coming to Pine Bluff. Go Forward Pine Bluff is a voter-approved public-private economic revitalization project.
“Go Forward Pine Bluff's support financially has always been committed to the plan the citizens voted for,” Watley said. “While we recognize and always anticipated that there would be private investment as it relates to the public investment, we are ready to accept whatever comes our way that compliments our plan.
“There's a lot of study that needs to be had in terms of the projected economic impact. Things are really looking like they will impact the city in a dynamic way in terms of tax revenue to allow the city government to be able to provide more services in terms of public safety; creating a sound reserve for the city; and many other things that we need.”
Last week, the Driving Arkansas Forward group submitted the popular name and ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to certify or reject the proposed title, which must be done within 10 days. If the amendment is certified, then the group will begin the process of collecting signatures for the issue to be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The proposed amendment to the constitution would authorize the Arkansas Lottery Commission to approve a license for a casino in Jefferson County; one of the requirements for that license is that the person or persons applying must have prior experience in casino operations.