AP NEWS

Oklahoma tribe applies for first casino license in Arkansas

May 2, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An American Indian tribe submitted its first application for a casino license in Arkansas.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that legalized casinos in four Arkansas counties.

The Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma gave the state Racing Commission a $250,000 check on Wednesday as the casino license application period began, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The application period will be in effect through May 30.

Nate Steel, attorney for the Quapaw Nation, said it was crucial that the tribe submit its application on the first day.

“We wanted to show the commission we wouldn’t be dragging our feet,” he said.

Quapaw Nation officials announced several months ago that they wanted to build the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, which is a $240 million project. Pine Bluff’s mayor and Jefferson County officials backed Quapaw Nation’s plan, which is a requirement under the amendment.

The tribe is happy to finally start the application process for the project, said Alex Gray, the Quapaw Nation attorney who helped draft the amendment.

“It’s been an 18-, 19-month project at this point,” Gray said. “It’s exciting to see us entering this phase.”

Steel noted that while it was just the first day of filing, he doesn’t expect any other casino interests to apply for the Jefferson County license.

“From the scale that Downstream is looking at investing in Jefferson County, it would be very difficult for other qualified applicants to match,” said Steel, referring to the tribe’s business entity, the Downstream Development Authority. “This goes beyond just dollars and cents. For Downstream and the Quapaw tribe this is about investment in the homeland.”

Once the license is awarded, crews will start working “within 10 minutes,” said Quapaw Nation chairman John Berrey.

“It will take about 10 to 11 months to get it framed in, then we’ll open the casino and a couple of restaurants,” Berrey added. “Then we’ll finish the hotel and convention center. It will probably be 16-18 months total time. We’ll have the ball rolling and people working. We’ll be generating taxes for the state of Arkansas, and we’ll be bringing people to Jefferson County for tourism.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com