By Ray King

The Saracen Casino Annex, which has been closed for more than a month is scheduled to reopen May 18 and project manager Carlton Saffa said Friday that he has talked to a number of employees who were furloughed when the state ordered the annex to shut down. He said those employees have said they are ready to get back to work.

In his daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that the annex, along with casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis will be allowed to open May 18 with a number of new requirements.

Appearing on the Oldies 101.3 morning show with Greg Horne and Will Jenkins, Saffa talked about some of those requirements.

He said that a combination of things will be done inside the annex to ensure that employees and patrons are protected from exposure from COVID-19.

A second step that Saffa said the annex will take will be to move some machines and furniture, and deactivating some of the machines, and during the closure, workers at the annex have made an addition to the area set aside for sports betting.

Saffa said he had read that 10,000 million people across the country had filed for unemployment after businesses were shut down because of COVID-19, and said even with that, he sees a light at the end of the tunnel as the country begins to open back up. That includes the annex which employees a number of people.

“Casino’s feed a lot of families,” he said. … “I know people think of it as a place just to go have fun and enjoy yourself. That’s true but casino’s feed my family, casino’s feed our team in Pine Bluff, 300 families in terms of our direct payroll and when the main property opens, we will be looking at over 1,000 families.

Both the City of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County have had to cut their 2020 budgets and are looking at either furloughs for employees or a shared work program due to the loss of casino revenue.

Saffa said the annex has 300 gaming machines while the big casino, across the street from the annex will have 2,000.

“I don’t know if it tracks exactly but you will have seven times as many machines across the street as we have now,” he said.

When the annex opens on May 18, Saffa said customers will have to wear face masks and provide identification which will be required by the state in case contact tracing is necessary. Also, the annex will close at midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.

You can listen to the entire interview with Carlton Saffa in the audio player below: