Quapaw Nation wins approval to open $350 million luxury casino resort on ancestral territory in Arkansas

After late last year announcing letters from local leaders in both city and county government supporting its casino license application, the federally recognized, Quapaw Nation on Thursday, June 13, 2019, was granted a gaming license to open a $350 million casino and resort on ancestral territory in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The Saracen Casino Resort will be located on a 345-acre Pine Bluff site in Jefferson County and is expected to open its doors to the public in spring 2020. The coming luxury casino resort is named in honor of Chief Saracen, who at 97 years of age was laid to rest in 1832 in what is the tenth-largest city in the state of Arkansas.

According to the official press release (pdf)…

John L. Berrey, Chairman of Saracen Development, LLC, the resort development group whose parent is the Quapaw Nation-owned Downstream Development, said the highly-anticipated project will have an ‘immediate, significant and long-term positive impact‘ on Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, and Arkansas.

Shovel to dirt:

“We were granted the state’s casino license today, and we are digging in — literally as we speak — to build a
showcase of a resort that will supercharge the region’s economy and excite the people of Arkansas,” said Chairman Berrey in Thursday’s news release.

Lone applicant:

The tribal entity, Saracen Development, was the only applicant for the Jefferson County gaming license, which was approved during the June 13, 2019 meeting of the Arkansas Racing Commission.

Enabling amendment:

Saracen Casino Resort is one of four casinos created courtesy of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November 2018, which allows for casinos in West Memphis at the Southland greyhound track and in Hot Springs at the Oaklawn horse track. The measure also legalized casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties. The Cherokee and Quapaw tribes in Oklahoma reportedly spent in excess of $4 million combined campaigning for Issue 4.

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Expected benefits to community:

According to Miamiok.com (Miami News Record),  construction of the resort is expected to create approximately 1,000 jobs which will reportedly last just shy of a year, with hiring efforts to focus on locally and state-owned sub-contractors and workers. An emphasis will also be placed on purchasing equipment and supplies locally to aid in boosting the economy of Pine Bluff.

Prior to the anticipated spring 2020 opening, about 1,100 permanent employees will be hired, which Saracen Development also reportedly anticipates will, for the most part, come from local communities. According to the news agency, Berrey, who is also chairman of the Quapaw Nation Business Committee,  said that his construction team has already been directed to initiate digging at the construction site.

“We view ourselves as community developers. That means we develop a commercial enterprise for the right reasons — for the betterment of communities and their citizens. I believe the people of Pine Bluff are already seeing that. They understand t 7BALL his is where we came from; this is a homecoming for us,” said Berrey.

Upon completion, the Saracen Casino Resort is expected to generate $32 million in tax-based revenue within five years, according to Berrey.

Forced removal/homecoming:

In 1818, the Quapaw Nation ceded twenty-eight million acres of ancestral land south of the Arkansas River, only to endure a second removal in 1824 when they were pressured by territorial officials to relinquish their remaining two million acres in the state, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. After that, they joined the Caddo on Louisiana’s Red River before bring removed yet again by the US federal government to Indian Territory (land within the US reserved for the forced resettlement of Native Americans), which was reduced to what is now Oklahoma, in 1834.

The Quapaw Nation now owns and operates Quapaw Casino in Miami and Downstream Casino Resort, located just across the Missouri line, along with a number of non-gaming related businesses.

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Planned expansions:

The constitutional amendment which allows for what was Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and the former Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis to transform into full-scale casinos has seen the, now, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, embark upon a $100 million expansion. The planned expansion includes adding a hotel, an event center, and an additional 28,000 square feet (2,600 square meters) in the casino area, while the owners of the latter (now Southland Casino Racing), Delaware North, are planning a $250 million expansion that will reportedly include a new 20-story hotel and casino.

Hard Rock latest player:

Meanwhile, hospitality and entertainment management company, Warner Gaming, LLC, announced in April that it would partner with the Hard Rock brand to propose a new resort casino for Pope County.

Late last month, details for its proposed Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Arkansas were announced by Tri-Peaks Entertainment Group, LLC, a partnership between casino operators Warner Gaming and Peninsula Pacific.

The $230-million entertainment, sports and recreation destination is to be located just off of Interstate 40 in Pope County and will reportedly offer a wide variety of dining and recreation options, some of which include a state-of-the-art 44,450 square foot casino, with 1,150 gaming machines, 28 table games, a live poker room and sports book, alongside a 300-room hotel and 26,000 square feet of meeting and event space.