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OPINION | EDITORIAL: City’s casino has become a big asset

January 15, 2023 at 2:08 a.m.

Schadenfreude doesn't capture the mood. We do not find joy in the misfortune going on in Pope County regarding its proposed casino. Maybe it's just the relief that what is going on there did not happen here.

The story from over there pops up occasionally and usually involves some variation of a circuit court courtroom, the state Supreme Court, the state Racing Commission, the Pope County Quorum Court, their county judge, various activist organizations wanting this or that and, of course, the entities wanting to become the operator of said casino. We probably left out some one or some thing that has joined in the fight along the way. It does create some head spinning.

But all that hoo-ha also perpetuates the absence of a casino and the absence of any casino revenues.

The latest iteration of this imbroglio revealed itself on Friday when a circuit judge in Pulaski County ruled that the Racing Commission had broken the law in giving the operator's license to one outfit and, hence, the commission's action was annulled.

The comparisons are stark. The same green light that statewide voters gave in 2018 that allowed the Quapaw Nation to bring Saracen Casino and Resort to Jefferson County also allowed for a casino to be located in Pope County. The difference is that the parties here – the operator, the mayor, the county judge and no doubt others – got on the same page in a snap.

By September 2019, Saracen was already in operation in a smallish way with the casino annex in advance of the construction and operation of the mothership casino across the street a year later. Since then, other than for some pandemic-period months, Saracen has been churning out between $1 million and $2 million in overall taxes just on its gambling revenues. That does not count the sales tax and property tax it pays, and it certainly doesn't speak to the 800 to 900 people – most of them from Jefferson County – who are employed there or the map on which Pine Bluff has been put as people from all over travel here to gamble or just eat at one of the casino's restaurants or both.

A recent story quoted one Saracen official as saying that in the time the casino has been in operation, Pine Bluff's city coffers have received close to $9 million and Jefferson County's have received almost $4 million in gambling taxes. And now Saracen has online gambling that's knocking the socks off the competitors.

Oh, and the casino is close to starting a huge expansion to create a 1,600-seat events center and 320-something room hotel – both of which will require more workers and will attract groups and events to Pine Bluff that might never have darkened the door otherwise.

Again, we can compare the above to the nothing that exists in Pope County and cringe at the thought. And their saga is far from over. Get your popcorn ready as you have to imagine there will be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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