Saracen Casino Resort partially opens in Arkansas
PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) – The largest tourism investment project in Arkansas has partially opened nearly a year after voters approved casino legalization, bringing thousands of jobs to Pine Bluff.
The Saracen Casino Annex officially opened Oct. 1. It’s part of the $350 million Saracen Casino Resort project owned and operated by the Oklahoma-based Quapaw Nation. The casino resort portion is expected to open in June.
“This region was once 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,” Quapaw Nation Chairman John L. Berrey said. “Any corporation can build. Our goal as Quapaw is to become a ‘resident,’ to contribute to the community in a meaningful way and to partner with community leaders to improve the lives of the residents.”
The overall project is expected to feature an 80,000-square foot gambling floor, 2,000 slot machines and 50 gambling tables. A 300-room hotel with conference and banquet centers, an entertainment venue, and several restaurants are also part of the multimillion-dollar project. A fire safety, an emergency services facility, and a day care and child learning center will also be built.
The Quapaw Nation and Downstream Development Authority on Oct. 1 celebrated the opening of the annex portion, which is loaded with 300 slot machines and has already served about 10,000 guests since the “ soft opening” on Sept. 27.
More than 200 people are employed at the annex and Q Store, the Quapaw Nation’s newest convenience store and gas station. Most of the hires came from Pine Bluff, comprising 72% female and 70% African American. The construction will bring 1,000 jobs while another 1,100 permanent jobs will be created at the Saracen Casino Resort, casino officials said.
It’s important to invest in the people who live in the region, Berrey said.
“Gainful employment benefits the employee, but it also transforms that individual’s household and allows him or her to invest in local businesses and grow the local economy,” Berrey said.
Arkansas voters in the November 2018 general election approved the state constitutional Amendment 100, which authorized the Arkansas Racing Commission to license casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties with the support of local elected officials and allow for sports betting at the casinos.
In June, the commission unanimously approved Quapaw Nation’s license for their Pine Bluff facility.
“The opening of the Annex and next summer’s opening of the Saracen Casino Resort will draw visitors from across Arkansas and surrounding states,” Berrey said.
Cherokee Nation Businesses, the business arm of the Cherokee Nation, has filed paperwork to build a casino and resort near Russellville in Pope County. It also opened a storefront in Russellville to interact with the town’s residents and answer questions regarding its casino plans.