he Saracen Casino Resort opened its doors to a select few Thursday night in Pine Bluff. It has been under construction since August 2019, and it will open to the public Tuesday, October 20.
More than 300 people from Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Little Rock, and around the state of Arkansas were on hand for a sneak preview and unofficial launch of the new 80,000-square-foot facility, which will include 2,300 games and 7 restaurants.
Elected officials from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington were on hand as well as Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff. Several Pine Bluff aldermen, Jefferson County justices of the peace, and other elected officials, business and community leaders, were also in attendance, and representatives from the Quapaw Nation, including Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd and 2019-2020 Tribal Princess Kristal Glass.
“You’re going to start seeing things evolve around Pine Bluff,” Robinson said as he played a game of craps, KATV reports. “We’re building three new buildings, the new health department, a new veterans service building and were also building a new coroner’s office and that’s going to be possible because of these revenues that we’re receiving from the casino,” he added.
The constitutional amendment added by Arkansas voters says that Jefferson County will get 8% of the gaming revenue and the city of Pine Bluff will get 19.5% of the revenue. “I think this money is going to help us give those increases to our first responders that we’ve been looking to for so many years so we can have that level of retention that we need,” Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said. She said the city will bring in more infrastructure and businesses as the tax base goes up from the casino.
“We’re not bringing in a lot of industry so we must make Pine Bluff that destination city,” Washington said. She said she hopes it will decrease crime by giving people jobs and allowing them to afford nicer homes. “I’ve done some research where casinos have gone into other cities and most of them have said the crime that they had was there before the casinos came,” Washington said. “We’ve seen people go overnight to a 25,000 job to 68,000.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson said: “The department of health has looked over the guidelines for operation and as long as those are complied with, we are reducing the risk but anytime you get out in an environment where there are people you are exposing yourself.”
“They’ve got to make their own decision,” Gov. Hutchinson said about Arkansans going to a casino in the middle of a pandemic. “Obviously if you are a vulnerable age group you need to think carefully about it and you need to look at what are the safety revision in place.”