While residents are happy with the 15,000-square-foot Saracen Casino Annex and Q-Store, which opened in September complete with 300 slot machines, patrons are eager to see what the casino will have to offer.

On the construction site of Saracen Casino, the 80,000-square-foot casino, is making progress inside and out.

The casino will include 2,000 slot machines and 50 table games. A 300-room hotel, spa, restaurants, conference center, an entertainment venue, and a museum and cultural center will also be housed on the on 110 acres at Martha Mitchell Expressway and U.S. 63/79.

John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe and Saracen Casino, projects the casino to open in the fall.

“We’ve pushed the dates back a little bit,” said Berrey. “We haven’t quite honed in but right now we’re looking probably late September early October before we open.”

Saracen Casino Resort is a $350 million casino hotel and event venue supported by government leaders of both Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

While residents are happy with the 15,000-square-foot Saracen Casino Annex and Q-Store, which opened in September complete with 300 slot machines, patrons are eager to see what the casino will have to offer.

“When people come in they’re going to see a lot of cool stuff,” said Berrey. “Gigantic floor-- it’s going to have beautiful amenities.”

Berrey states that all food outlets and restaurants won’t open right away.

When it comes to the buffet, Berrey says they will have to come up with an alternative way to serve food.

“We’re not going to open all the food outlets when we first open but they’ll see something that’s not like anything in the state of Arkansas in terms of beauty, technology, quality, customer service,” said Berrey. “It’ll be just a great entertainment venue. Hopefully people will come from all over the region to not only explore our facility but also Pine Bluff.”

The Quapaw Tribe has worked with local officials for the past five years to bring the casino to Pine Bluff.

Just recently Chairman Berrey invited Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson for a look inside the establishment.

“We had a great visit with Mayor Washington and Judge Robinson last week,” said Berrey. “They’re great people. They’re part of our motivation to come to Pine Bluff.”

Berrey explained he wanted to update Washington and Robinson on the progression of the casino and let them see what was going on in the inside, giving them a little feel on how it was going to look.

“I’m hoping maybe next week or whenever their schedule allows they’ll come back and see our progress because this is really a community effort, not just our effort,” said Berrey. “We want them to know where we’re at with what we’re doing at all times. We stay in close contact on a regular basis.”

With more than 1,000 workers on the site, the coronavirus pandemic did affect casino operations directly and indirectly.

“When the pandemic began it caused us a lot of heartache because we had to furlough employees,” Berrey. “We did a lot of things for them when we furloughed.”

According to Berrey, if they qualified for benefits, their benefits were taken care of while they were off.

“We also did some food drives to help them out,” said Berrey. “We had to shut down the Annex and follow what the state and CDC guidelines were.

Safety first is Berrey’s number one priority.

Earlier this month casino subcontractors tested positive according to the Arkansas Times. Berrey said his main goal has always been to protect his employees.

“Currently our staff wear masks and gloves. We check their temperatures as they come in to work,” said Berrey. “We ask them questions about people they’ve been around or any potential contamination opportunities.”

Berrey goes on to say that employees are closely followed as they try to make sure they’re following the social distance procedures.

“We do everything we can think of to protect them,” said Berrey.

Safety guidelines will also apply to patrons who plan to visit the casino.

Though Berrey states he doesn’t know what the future of the casino will look like, the Annex on the other hand, has implemented guidelines approved by the Arkansas Department of Health.

“In Arkansas it’s mandatory that you wear a mask so each patron has to wear a mask,” said Berrey. “We also need a valid ID for any of the guests that come in so we could record them for the state so they could help track people found positive of COVID-19.”

Other safety measure taken include:

• Casino guests will be required to use one entrance and one exit.

• Guests and staff will be subject to a temperature test before entry. Those with temperatures above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will not be admitted.

• Staff directly interacting with guests will be required to wear gloves.

• Enhanced cleaning measures using medical-grade sanitizers, with emphasis on high-touch areas.

• Hand sanitizer is readily available throughout the facility.

• Social distancing measures include:

• Movement and removal of chairs and/ or devices

• Plexiglas® and partition separators at key locations

• Deactivation of devices to avoid overcrowding

“We’ve just done everything that we could think of that would reduce any potential points of contamination,” said Berrey.

Those who are interested in seeking a career with Saracen Casino, Berrey hopes to start the hiring process really soon.

“We want to live up to our promise of being very inclusive with people of color that never have had really the opportunity,” said Berrey. “We hope to provide jobs that they could have until they retire.”

Health care and child care are just a few of the many benefits that will be offered to employees according to Berrey.

“We’re looking forward to hiring more people as we get closer,” said Berrey. “We’re still trying to judge how we’re going to deal with COVID and how we’re going to be to be able to do employee fairs and get people hired.”

Berrey states he is optimistic about the future despite the pandemic.

Dedicated to the community with servitude and selfless acts during the flood as well as generous contributions to food banks, Berrey said the relationships made will be everlasting.

“We just want to be really good partners with the community and we’re looking forward to it,” said Berrey. “We hope everybody else is. We’re getting a lot of feedback that’s positive. We’ve made a lot of great friends and we just want to keep going down that path.”

Visit us at facebook.com/pbcommerical or youtube.com/pinebluffcommercial to see more photos from our interview with Chairman John Berrey.