By Ray King
By a vote of 5-3, a resolution calling on Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington to ask the operators of the Saracen Casino Annex to shut down for 30 days failed to pass during a meeting of the City Council Monday.
Council Member Ivan Whitfield sponsored the proposed legislation and said during discussion that it expressed his “true and utmost feelings about protecting and promoting” the health of residents.
According to the proposed resolution, the dangers of infections from COVID-19 “can only be enhanced by the infusion of persons from other areas who may be the unwitting carriers of the virus.”
The casino annex opened Monday morning, several hours before the council meeting.
Whitfield went on to say that it would be a “terrible day” if the reopening of the casino annex, which with the other casino’s in the state were closed by Governor Asa Hutchinson, resulted in the creation of a COVID-19 “hotspot.”
Council Member Glen Brown Jr. asked if the city had the authority to ask that the casino annex be closed, and Whitfield said the city has the right to ask and said the resolution does not demand the facility close. He said when businesses come to the city, it is like a partnership and the city should be able to ask.
“We can say we tried our best not to create a hotspot,” Whitfield said.
During one of his daily COVID-19 updates last week, Governor Asa Hutchinson approved the reopening of the Casino Annex, as well as casino’s in Hot Springs and West Memphis under strict guidelines, beginning with limiting the attendance to one-third of capacity, social distancing and wearing masks.
Council Member Bruce Lockett, who with Whitfield and Council Member Lloyd Holcomb Jr., voted in favor of the resolution described it as “good legislation. We were elected by the people to protect them. I don’t care what the Governor says. That don’t make good common sense.”
Voting against the resolution were Brown Jr., and Council Members Steven Mays, Win Trafford, Donald Hatchett and Joni Alexander.