A Saracen Casino and Resort official offered new details about the multi-million dollar project Wednesday at the Pine Bluff Small Business Association’s monthly luncheon. Fifty-six members attended the event at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Services Center in Pine Bluff.
Saracen Casino and Resort Projects Manager Carlton Saffa said that one of the main goals is to educate residents here about the Quapaw Tribe. The tribe operates Downstream Development, which is building the new Pine Bluff casino.
Chief Saracen of the Quapaw Tribe, which has deep Arkansas roots, is buried in Pine Bluff. He died in 1832 at age 97.
“We have had questions about what all we are doing to educate people about who the Quapaw are,” Saffa said. “There has been images of the casino chips and images of the gaming, but there is so much more to it. Sure, that is our core business, but there is so much more to it than that.”
Saffa recounted the time a teacher told him of a class trip to Oklahoma, where the students “saw the casinos from different tribes, and they really didn’t get it. Then it dawned on me that we probably have a heck of a task ahead of us about explaining what the Quapaws are really like.
“At the root of what the Quapaw do is provide opportunity and service to folks in the community. What does that look like in Quapaw, Oklahoma? It manifests itself in the form of bison and cattle. We got into the bison cattle business because we felt like our brand is quality, and we can raise some of the best cattle on earth and certainly the best bison on earth, and do it in a perfectly integrated process. At our steakhouses, you will have some of the best steaks that you can eat.”
There are plans in place to raise bison and cattle in Pine Bluff as well.
“There will be bison in Pine Bluff,” Saffa said. “You will be able to drive down Highway 65 and see the bison pad in front of the facility. At what level that production will occur, I will leave it as an opening to be determined. We have a state-of-the-art meat processing center in Oklahoma, so we may raise bison and cattle then take them to Oklahoma for processing, then bring them back here. That may be something we need to do, depending upon the need for meat in the facility.”
Saffa said that the Quapaw Tribe is the only tribe in America that owns a USDA processing facility.
“We are able to produce quality steaks, so it made sense for us to do it,” he said. “It provided another avenue for us to provide jobs to folks in the area. It is not just members of the tribe that work there. The Quapaw Tribe is a relatively small tribe. In an election, you will see 1,000 Quapaw votes. To put it in perspective, there are 100,000 Cherokee and Choctaw tribe members. The Quapaw Tribe is small, but they are very sophisticated.”
The Quapaws also offer their own brand of coffee, which will be sold in Pine Bluff.
“Coffee is the same thing. We talk about coffee a lot because maybe we work too much and need the caffeine,” Saffa said. “Our coffee beans are roasted and packaged locally, then sold commercially. In the casino, we sell 400,000 cups of coffee per year at Downstream Casino Resort, so it makes sense for us to control our own product. It turned out to be cheaper to do it, and the coffee is a heck of a lot better, too.”
Saffa said he mentioned the bison, beef, and coffee to show that gaming isn’t the only function that the Quapaw participate in.
“I want you to understand that gaming is just one function of what the Quapaw do,” he said.
Saffa also spoke about the timeline for opening the truck stop, gaming annex and, ultimately, the casino/resort.
“We will have the Q-Store open August 1st,” Saffa said. The store was formerly known as the Southern Edge truck stop.
“There are a couple of reasons we did that. We have had the (state gaming) license now for a little over the month. We have been remodeling day and night. That gas station that we bought is only three years old, but we have stripped it down to the studs.
“When you walk back into it, you will be shocked. This is just our first opportunity to show you the quality we are going to bring. Around the first week of October, maybe sooner, we will have the gaming annex open. Our goal is to have it open by UAPB Homecoming. We promised some folks we would have it open for a big throw down. The annex will hold about 300 gaming machines and will give you your first exposure to who what our properties are like. The Saracen facility, with an 80,000 square foot gaming floor, will be done in phases, but you will see it open by next summer.”
There is a formal ground breaking for the Saracen Casino Resort scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 5.
“I know the lieutenant governor and the attorney general will be there to speak,” Saffa said. “There will be all kinds of folks there in attendance. I say groundbreaking with a bit of a smirk because we broke ground the day we got our license. We moved a little bit of dirt, mostly for fun, and (Chief) John Berrey wanted to get on a backhoe. But if you drive by where the facility will be, you will see work going on.”
The Quapaw have a plan in place to hire as many local and minority residents as possible to work at the casino property.
“We have Fred Allen, whose entire job is to incorporate people local to Pine Bluff into the project,” Saffa said. “I want to be clear about something. People will say Fred is just the minority liaison. That is only partly true. I helped to write his job description, and it is local and minority job liaison. The reason for that is we firmly believe the community should be built by the people who live in it. You all say to shop local and buy local. We want to build local. There are some places where that has meant more work from us on our side, but that is our commitment to this community.”
Saffa said that the Quapaws are great people to work for.
“Downstream Casino Resort has been open for 10 years,” Saffa said. “Sixty-five percent of the original personnel hired then are still working. That is two out of every three people who were hired from the beginning are still working for us.”