The Saracen Casino Resort is officially under construction in Pine Bluff after Quapaw Nation’s Downtown Development Authority was granted its gaming license with a unanimous vote from the Arkansas Racing Commission Thursday in Little Rock.

Meanwhile, the commission denied licenses to all five applicants in Pope County because none have the legally-required support from local authorities. The commission also voted to return the full $250,000 application fee to each company.

In addition, the commission approved sportsbook wagering at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs.

John Berrey, chairman of Downstream Development, said the multi-hundred million dollar project in Pine Bluff will have an immediate, significant and long-term positive impact on the city, as well as Jefferson County and the state of Arkansas.

The casino will be located at the corner of the Martha Mitchell Expressway and US 79/63.

“We were granted the state’s casino license today, and we are digging in -- literally as we speak -- to build a showcase of a resort that will supercharge the region’s economy and excite the people of Arkansas,” Berrey said.

Around 1,000 construction and related jobs will be immediately created, with another 1,100 jobs created on a permanent basis once casino functions begin. The casino group has also purchased the Southern Edge Truck Stop just east of the resort site and plan to construct a gambling annex there in the coming months.

“We view ourselves as community developers,” Berrey said. “That means we develop a commercial enterprise for the right reasons, for the betterment of communities and their citizens. I believe the people of Pine Bluff are already seeing that. They understand this is where we came from; this is a homecoming for us.”

Contracts for dirt work and asphalt work were awarded earlier this week so construction could get underway immediately after the license was secured.

“We awarded contracts for dirt and paving to Crawford Construction and McGeorge Contracting,” Berrey said.

“We have been meeting with them about how to integrate the local minority contractors. We are super excited about that. McGeorge is from here in town, and we are looking forward to working with them. We have to move a lot of dirt, and we are going to have to pave a lot of acreage, so those are two big contracts that we awarded after receiving the bids. Now we are integrating them into our system to get them to bring in some of the local people like we have been talking about.”

Work on the project will come in two phases, with the first phase expected to be open in April 2020.

“Some people will tell you 11 months, but I will tell you 10,” Berrey said. “In April, we will open the casino, then six months later we will open the hotel. That is my schedule.”

“We want to help make Pine Bluff better,” he said. “We want to create a destination for people to come from outside Jefferson County.”

The Quapaw Tribe is originally from the area of east and south Arkansas. The tribe was forcibly moved to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and one of the Quapaw’s last leaders in Arkansas, Chief Saracen, is buried in Pine Bluff.