John Berrey, chairman of the Oklahoma-based Quapaw Tribe, says he hopes to have a permit for a casino in Pine Bluff by the end of April, to be “digging dirt” by June and to open a casino in Pine Bluff early in 2020.
I talked by phone with Berrey, whose tribe was a major underwriter of the campaign to pass Issue 4, which expands casino gambling at Oaklawn and Southland racetracks and authorizes permits for two new casinos in Jefferson and Pope County.
Some enabling legislation will be passed at the session beginning in January to put the new casino amendment into effect. But Berrey said the amendment was carefully written to limit legislative alterations. He said he hoped a permit application could be filed by April with the Racing Commission, which oversees casino gambling in Arkansas, and awarded by the end of the month. He said most of the regulation will pertain to auditing and other rules on gambling and accounting practices.
With a permit in place, Berrey said construction could begin in June. He said it took 10 months to build a casino the tribe operates in Joplin, Mo., a development that he said has been worth several billion in associated economic activity to that
He said the casino would offer all gambling options, including a sports book, but he said sports wagering was not a major focus of their operation because it has a
The Quapaw Tribe is a government, not a shareholder-owned corporation, Berrey emphasized. He said it would devote more to community development than a casino corporation driven strictly by the bottom line. “We’re about building communities,” he said. “Our goal is to make it a better place for people to live.”
The Cherokee tribe, another investor in the Issue 4 campaign, has been mentioned as a possible applicant for a permit in Pope County. But a local referendum there that was approved Tuesday calls for a vote before a casino can be built in that county. The state-approved amendment says only that a county judge or mayor’s approval is necessary. There’s some question, then, whether the local ordinance can add a vote requirement on the state amendment. That could require a court resolution.
Either way, Berrey said, “It would be a tough time to go in right now.” A potential casino developer there might have to do some public relations work first and sell potential economic benefits. Over time, for example, the nuclear reactor near Russellville will near the end of its life and possibility of new economic development
Speaking of politics: Berrey confirmed that federal law says that tribal land put in trust can be used for any type of gambling otherwise permitted elsewhere in the state. Thus, I asked, couldn’t that law be used should the Quapaw Tribe seek to have its land near the Little Rock Port designated trust land? Local officials have taken a number of steps to prevent the Quapaws from doing that after they acquired the land.
While confirming my understanding of the law, Berrey added, “Putting land into trust has become more and more difficult and political.” It requires