John Berrey’s vision is impressive.
Berrey, chairman of Downstream Development Authority and the Quapaw Nation, spoke by phone about plans for a casino development in Pine Bluff.
The tribe has two casinos in Oklahoma with Downstream Casino Resort being the main facility. It lies in the extreme upper northeast corner of Oklahoma.
“The parking lot is in Kansas,” Berrey says. “The casino is in Oklahoma and an RV park is in Missouri.”
To get to the casino, you take Mainstream Boulevard, that starts in Missouri, runs through Kansas and ends in Oklahoma creating a tri-state experience that won’t be replicated in Arkansas.
Berrey says the casino, which will be named the Saracen Casino Resort, will cover around 200 acres but declined to say exactly where the building would be located in Pine Bluff. The casino’s name comes from Saracen, also known as Sarasen or Sarasin, who was a Quapaw Indian chief in Arkansas and was buried in Pine Bluff. He was later re-buried “in the cemetery of St. Joseph’s Church,” according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Berrey called the planned Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff a virtual “twin” of the facility they have in Oklahoma.
The casino there covers 70,000 square feet, according to the American Casino Guide and offers, “slots, poker, blackjack and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em” among other games of chance.
Berrey said construction could start next spring, but that it depends on the Arkansas Racing Commission. “They have to approve anything we do,” he says.
The commission is currently working on drafting rules for casino operation, and they must be approved by March 14, 2019. Then a public comment hearing will follow, with a date to be determined and that will be followed with sign-off from the Arkansas State Legislature.
The state already has legalized gambling in West Memphis and Hot Springs with dog and horse tracks, respectively. Both places also offer electronic gambling.
Berrey is hopeful to get a permit by April with construction happening in the summer and maybe, “10 months” to get something open, which is how long construction took for the Downstream Casino in Oklahoma.
The Saracen Casino could also be built in phases with the casino and restaurant opening first, with the hotel and entertainment venues to follow.
The Downstream Casino has an indoor facility that seats 1,000, while an outdoor pavillion handles larger crowds.
An architectural rendering of the proposed Saracen Casino shows an approximately 20-story facility, which would be the tallest structure in Pine Bluff, and would have extensive parking.
The Berrey-led Quapaw Tribe was one of the major backers in the campaign to pass Issue 4. Arkansas voters, by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin, approved the issue last month.
It was also financially supported by gambling interests in Hot Springs and West Memphis, along with the Cherokee Tribe, which is pushing for a casino in Pope County, but that project does not have the local support the Saracen Casino has.
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Booker Clemons both wrote letters of support for the project that were sent to the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Berrey said he has been working with Pine Bluff officials for nearly five years.
“I know the residents of Pine Bluff will join me in welcoming this resort, and we encourage the state to move forward quickly with the approval process,” Washington said earlier this week.
While Clemmons said he was, “glad to be able to offer my support for its application.”
The Quapaw Tribe has deep roots in Arkansas, mostly in Pine Bluff and Little Rock, Berrey said and added the tribe looked to add to that lengthy history.