American Indian Law


Indian country transactions

Downstream Development awarded license for new commercial gaming
resort in Arkansas

Downstream Development Authority, an economic development arm of the Quapaw Nation, has been awarded a commercial gaming license to build a new, upscale resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  The Arkansas Racing Commission issued the license on Thursday.

The Saracen Casino Resort, which is projected to cost well in excess of $300 million, is planned as a regional destination, with a state-of-the-art casino, a 300 room hotel, an events center, and a travel plaza.  Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, with a targeted opening for the casino in the spring of 2020.  The resort will be owned and operated by Saracen Development, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Downstream Development.

The Arkansas resort represents the latest expansion by Downstream Development.  The enterprise’s flagship Downstream Casino Resort in Oklahoma opened in 2006 and was expanded in 2012.  The Nation and Downstream Development successfully sponsored the ballot initiative in 2018 to amend the Arkansas Constitution to legalize casino gaming. 

The project takes the Quapaw Nation back to its original homeland, although this time as a major economic force.  The federal government removed the Nation to present-day Oklahoma following an 1833 treaty.  The namesake of the new resort—Saracen—was one of the tribe’s last leaders in Arkansas.  Saracen is buried in Pine Bluff.

John L. Berrey, Chairman of Downstream Development, said the new resort “will supercharge the economy” in the region around Pine Bluff.  The new resort is projected to create approximately 1,000 jobs during the construction phase, and about 1,100 jobs when it is completed.

“We view ourselves as community developers.  That means we develop a commercial enterprise for the right reasons—for the betterment of communities and their citizens,” Berrey said.  “I believe the people of Pine Bluff are already seeing that.  They understand this is where we came from;  this is a homecoming for us.”

—Steve Ward

The Conner & Winters Indian country finance and development teams are providing legal counsel to Downstream Development for the Saracen Casino Resort project.  The legal team includes Steve Ward,, and Austin Birnie,, who work in the firm's Indian law and gaming practice, along with Greg Scharlau,, who has extensive experience in Indian country securities offerings, and Gentra Sorem,, a banking and finance attorney who frequently works on Indian country transactions.