An American Indian tribe has submitted its first application for a casino license in Arkansas.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that legalized casinos in four Arkansas counties.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma gave the state Racing Commission a $250,000 check on Wednesday as the casino license application period began. The application period will be in effect through May 30.
Several months ago, Quapaw Nation officials announced that they wanted to build the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, which is an estimated $240 million casino project. Pine Bluff’s mayor and Jefferson County officials backed Quapaw Nation’s plan, which is a requirement under the amendment.
A Quapaw Nation attorney says the tribe is excited to finally start the application process for the project.
During a speech to the Pine Bluff Rotary in February, Chief John Berrey said when it’s completed, the Saracen Casino Resort planned for Pine Bluff is expected to generate $32 million in tax-based revenue in five years
Berrey is chairman of Downstream Development Authority, which has been selected by leaders in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County to operate the casino here.
Berrey of the Quapaw Tribe said Downstream Development has already “spent thousands of dollars” preparing for construction, which he said will begin as soon as the State Racing Commission approves a license.
He said the Downstream Casino, which the tribe owns in Oklahoma was built in 10 months and the goal is to build the Saracen Casino and Resort in a similar time frame.
Berrey said the gaming floor will be built first, “to give us cash flow” while the 300 room resort hotel could take an additional six months “to finish out all the rooms.”
“We want to help make Pine Bluff better,” he said. “We want to create a destination for people to come from outside Jefferson County.”
Berrey said construction costs for the casino resort will run between $210 and $240 million dollars and will require an estimated 1,000 workers.
“That means when we get rolling, Mr. Gerald (County Judge Gerald Robinson) and Miss Shirley (Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington) will have folding money instead of having to rob Peter to pay Paul,” he said.
He also said that the combination casino resort will create 1,000 to 1,100 permanent jobs and said Downstream Development is working with UAPB (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) and SEARK (Southeast Arkansas College) to train future workers.
“If you have the want to, and the skill set, we will train you,” he said.
In terms of benefits, Berrey said the facility will have an on-site clinic and daycare for employees.
“Some of our employees (at the Oklahoma casino) make more than $100,000 a year and some of them are single mothers,” Berrey said. “We’ve been operating in Oklahoma for 10 years and 65 percent of the employees who started with us are still with us. We have the best benefits package of any company in the community.”
Asked by Robinson if some of the employees who work in Oklahoma will be transferring to Pine Bluff, Berrey said “yes they will. We want people to come down here.”
As far as other potential employees, Berrey said, “It’s good for us and good for Hot Springs and good for Southland but Tunica is on its last breath.”
In a related matter, Berrey said Downstream Development has bought the Southern Edge Truck Stop on U.S. 63 near the site where the casino will be located, explaining that a company owned store like Southern Edge which is located near the Oklahoma Casino is the Second highest revenue generating store in Oklahoma.”
“It was a fair deal for us and we are able to grow our business in another place in the same locality,” Berrey said.
As far as an opening, Berrey said he was shooting for Valentine’s Day in 2020.
“We will probably have a few soft openings before that, just to be sure everything is ready but when we have the opening, it’s going to be a tremendous opening,” he said.