Mayor Washington and County Judge Clemons Give Pine Bluff Casino Plan Letters of Support

Quapaw Nation to name proposed project  Saracen Casino Resort

from the Arkansas democrat gazette.

The Quapaw Nation and its partners in the planned development of the proposed Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff announced letters of support Monday from local leaders in city and county government, clearing a needed hurdle to establish one of the first four full-fledged casinos in Arkansas.

Both Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Booker Clemons, the county judge of Jefferson County, wrote letters to the Arkansas Racing Commission on Nov. 19 expressing their support for the casino license application made by the Downstream Development Authority.

The Downstream Development Authority, an arm of the Quapaw Nation named for its casino in Oklahoma, was one of the principal backers of Issue 4, a constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling that received the support of Arkansas voters on Nov. 6.

Issue 4 — now Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution — allows for casinos to be licensed in both Jefferson and Pope counties, as well as alongside existing gambling operations at Southland Gaming & Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs.

In order to establish new operations in Pope and Jefferson counties, the amendment requires letters of support from local leaders. (Southland and Oaklawn are exempt from the requirement.)

In separate letters that featured much of the same wording, both Washington and Clemons said they had met with representatives from Downstream about the planned casino in Pine Bluff.

Both letters touted the leaders’ belief that the development team has the “experience, commitment to the community, and qualifications needed to operate a casino” in the city, which has faced public struggles with population loss, crime, building abandonment and poverty.

“It has long been our goal to energize Pine Bluff and Jefferson County through a significant economic investment,” said John Berrey, the chairman of the Quapaw Nation, in a press release. “As the original homeland for the Quapaw Nation, we believe we have an obligation to the region to be good corporate citizens. This casino resort will be a source of pride for the community. It will create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of dollars in taxes that will help improve the city’s and county’s infrastructure and quality of life.”

According to the website 500Nations.com, the name for the Saracen Casino was chosen to honor a Quapaw chief who was buried in Pine Bluff. The website said that if approved, the casino could open in early 2020.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Racing Commission, said the commission will meet Wednesday and discuss the progress of the casino amendment.

He said the agency had yet to receive the letters of support claimed by Downstream Development, or any letters in support of an applicant in Pope County.

Under the amendment, Hardin said, the commission must develop rules for the licensing of casinos, and the Legislature must decide how to divvy up state gambling revenues.

The commission will have to address whether the letter by Clemons, whose term as county judge ends Jan. 1, will meet the amendment’s criteria for local support.

Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson was elected earlier this year to succeed Clemons as county judge. Robinson did not respond to a message left at his office Monday, though he has previously stated he would welcome the casino.

While the casino project has received support from the city and county leadership, two state lawmakers from Pine Bluff signed a letter earlier in the year opposing Issue 4.

One of those lawmakers, state Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said Monday she questioned whether developers behind the proposed casino could ensure the jobs created by the project would go to local citizens. Flowers said that while local leaders had met with the developers, she had not received information to ease her concerns.

Still, the amendment passed with 64 percent of the vote in Jefferson County, higher than the 54 percent of the vote it received statewide.

“I do believe they are writing in conjunction with that reality,” Flowers said of the letters signed by Washington and Clemons.

Hardin said Monday that the Racing Commission has not had contact with any other potential applicants for the casino license in Jefferson County, citing the commission’s focus on “drafting and establishing rules” for the licensing process.