Pine Bluff Celebrates Groundbreaking for $350 Million Casino Scheduled to Open by June

Posted on: August 6, 2019, 11:21h. 

Last updated on: August 6, 2019, 12:57h.

A ceremonial groundbreaking took place Monday for Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, which will be the third such gaming operation to open in Arkansas.

Flanked by Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson, Quapaw Chairman John Berrey celebrates the groundbreaking of the $350 million casino the Quapaw’s Downstream Development Authority will build in the Arkansas town. (Image: Luke Matheson/Twitter)

The $350 million casino will be run by the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe in Oklahoma. The Authority was the only company to seek a license for a casino in Jefferson County, one of four counties approved to have a casino by a statewide referendum last year.

State officials, including Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, joined company executives and local leaders to plant shovels into the ground and commemorate the start of construction on what will eventually include a 300-room hotel, a convention center, and restaurants for the casino. Even legendary Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, an Arkansas native, was on hand for the event.

Saracen was the name of the longtime chief of the Quapaw, who once lived in Arkansas. Eventually, the tribe was forced into present-day Oklahoma, where they still reside. Saracen, however, returned to Arkansas in his later years. He died in 1832 at age 97 and is buried in Pine Bluff.

‘Game Changer’ for Pine Bluff

In the sweltering heat, Quapaw Chairman John Berrey promised a quick turnaround for the new casino. Officials expect it to open by next June, if not sooner.

My plan is to have the casino built before most people could build a house,” he told the crowd gathered under a tent for the ceremony.

The casino itself will take up 80,000 square feet and feature 2,300 slot machines and table games. After the casino opens, officials anticipate the hotel and remaining amenities will open by December 2020.

The current construction work has created more than 1,000 jobs, and when the casino and resort opens next year, there will be about 1,100 jobs created as a result.

Griffin called the casino a “game changer” for the Pine Bluff region. According to US Census Bureau data, 24.7 percent of residents in Jefferson County, home to Pine Bluff, have lived at or below the poverty level in the last 12 months. That’s compared to a statewide mark of 18.1 percent. The county’s unemployment rate for June was 5.7 percent, tied for 70th among the state’s 75 counties.

A job fair will take place next week.

The gaming action will actually start before the casino opens. On Sunday, the authority opened the Saracen Q convenience store, and plans call for the store to hold a casino annex with 300 slots machines. That is scheduled to open in October.

Elsewhere in Arkansas

When the Saracen casino opens, it will join a pair of tracks that have opened casinos earlier this year. Oaklawn Racing Casino and Resort officially opened its casino at the historic Hot Springs track back in April. Now work is underway on a $100 million expansion that will include a hotel and additional gaming space.

Last month, Oaklawn also opened its sportsbook, the only legal book currently operational in Arkansas.

Also in April, Southland Gaming and Racing opened its doors in West Memphis, directly across the river from Memphis, Tenn. The Delaware North property includes 2,000 slot machines and 40 table games.

Delaware North is in the middle of a $250 million expansion of the dog track. That investment includes a 20-story hotel with additional gaming spaces.

Controversy surrounds the final license. The referendum specifically states casinos would be granted for Jefferson County and Pope County. However, voters in Pope County voted against the amendment. In addition, public leaders who were supportive of a casino have been replaced by elected officials who are not.

The lack of support is crucial, because the license requirements for an Arkansas casino require a letter of support. Five applicants submitted paperwork to the state racing commission for a Pope County casino. However, the commission rejected each one because they lacked support from a sitting official.