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Arkansas Officials Get Sneak Peak of Saracen Casino Before Tuesday’s Grand Opening

Officially, the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Ark., is set to hold its grand opening on Tuesday. However, state and community leaders got a sneak peek at the $350 million development on Thursday, when the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma held a preview event.

Jefferson County Judge Gerald Washington (center, red jacket) tries his hand at a Saracen Casino craps table during a soft opening event last week. (Image: KATV.com)

Community officials are hopeful the casino will spur new development and growth in the town. Saracen will employ about 1,100 people, and according to KATV-TV 800 of the positions have been filled.

Before Pine Bluff was established in 1839, the region was home to the Quapaw Nation.

Our presence here is a homecoming, so it’s important to us that the city of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County thrive,” the casino’s web site states. “This begins with investing in the individuals who live here.”

While the jobs will be important, so, too, will be the revenue the casino generates. According to Arkansas state law, the casino’s first $150 million in net revenue will be taxed at 13 percent, and the revenue exceeding $150 million will be taxed at 20 percent.

The state will receive 55 percent of the tax revenue, with the Arkansas Racing Commission getting 17.5 percent. Locally, Pine Bluff will be allocated 19.5 percent, while Jefferson County will take 8 percent.

Mayor Shirley Washington told the station the city plans to bolster salaries for first responders in an attempt to retain more of those workers. Jefferson County Judge Gerald Washington told the station, the first proceeds from the casino will be used to build new health department and veterans services buildings. A new coroner’s office is also in the works.

COVID Delayed Saracen Opening

Pine Bluff is located about 50 miles south of Little Rock, the state’s capital and largest city. Upon its official opening, Saracen will be the third casino in the state, joining Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis.

Downstream Development broke ground on Saracen, named for a one-time Quapaw leader buried in Pine Bluff, in August 2019. Plans were to open in June, however the COVID-19 pandemic forced construction delays.

The 80,000-square-foot casino will hold about 2,000 slot machines, 30 table games, a sportsbook, and a poker room. Plans include building a 300-room resort hotel.

Saracen also has an annex across the street from the casino that offers an additional 300 machines.

Fourth Arkansas Casino Not Expected Soon

With the Saracen resort about to go live, it will mean three of the four casinos voters approved in a 2018 referendum will be open. It’s unlikely the fourth casino, slated for Russellville, will open anytime soon.

Two entities, the Cherokee Business Nation and the Gulfside Casino Partnership, were the final bidders for the Pope County license. State Racing Commission members initially voted 4-3 in favor of Gulfside, but there have been concerns raised about how commissioners have interacted with the bidders.

A state spokesman told Casino.org last month that officials expect litigation in the matter.

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

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Steve Bittenbender