John Berrey, Quapaw Tribe Chairman
Very interesting developments could be in the works as leaders from the Quapaw Indian Tribe of Oklahoma continue to hint at the group’s long-term plans to replicate their successful casino business model with “new” formalized “legal” gambling to central Arkansas, which, goin’ by what the good folks here tell me, is somehow entirely different than what they’ve been doing down at Oaklawn in Hot Springs and on east of here at the dog tracks in West Memphis . . . but I digress.
You may recall that the tribe purchased an 80-acre tract south of the Little Rock Port Industrial Park for $775,000 late last year, leading to the original speculation about the group’s true intentions on down the road.
Hey, for the record, I am certainly no gambler, and frankly have never quite wrapped my brain around the idea that all the unnecessary anxiety that comes with risking your own cash could be fun or entertaining. That being said, you can also put me on record as being counted among the generally pro- new revenue & stuff-to-do club on these sorts of things, rather than the many hell-in-a-handbasket Chicken Littlers we often find to have the loudest political voices among us. You know who I am talking about, that Family Council crowd of misguided do-gooders who continually seem happy in letting each of our bordering-state neighbors reap the financial rewards we have more or less gifted to their respective state budgets due to our collectively misplaced moral stands, which may very well come from an altruistic viewpoint, but obviously misses the bigger picture.
Source: Tribal Government Gaming (2009)
What the people who lobby hard against the prospects of a state lottery, bizarre legal relics like Sunday alcohol restrictions, and legal gambling via tourism-friendly casinos near the state’s most populated areas, is that maybe if a few slot machines and blackjack tables directly lead to helping our state combat hunger, provide our public schools with more resources or smaller class sizes for our children, or even might mean we can finally finish that Interstate 49 project Missouri and Louisiana keep waiting on us to complete our portion of (or any of the myriad other road improvements we desperately need for a modern economy), then by all means BRING THIS ON. Am I right or am I right?
(Editor’s Note: I am right.)
Tunica certainly isn’t Mississippi’s great ethical failing, folks. Perhaps Jerry Cox and the like can secretly lobby for passage of Arkansans for Compassionate Care ballot initiative and have a way to combat all those stressful, sleepless nights sure to come when those squaws bring all that sinful abomination to town.
It’s probably worth noting to readers that John Berrey, the Quapaw Tribe’s Chairman, recently completed a four-year stint as a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a presidentially appointed post. So when you’re left muttering to yourself “how in the heck are they able to link this one to Obamacare so everyone here hates it?!” you’ll at least know where the enormous stretch would seemingly come from.
For more background, below you will find the accompanying commentary yesterday from KARK’s Hubert Tate.
Stay tuned. Could get real testy if this push becomes a reality.
An Indian tribe, native to Arkansas, has purchased 160 acres of land in Pulaski County, hoping to reclaim a part of its history in the state. The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma is trying to figure out the next step to develop the land, including the possibility of a casino. No decision has been made, but right now the tribe’s main focus is to reclaim its history in the State. The tribe had property in Pulaski County dating back to before the 1800’s, but the United States government forced them to surrender their lands.
“We really love Arkansas and see it as part of our home. Then in 1850s, we were removed from Arkansas and brought out to Indian Territory of Oklahoma,” said business chairman John Berrey. Quapaw, Oklahoma is where the majority of the tribe’s 4,500 members are now located.
Property near the Little Rock Port Authority is where Quapaws were for decades before moving northwest, which is the main reason why the tribe purchased 160 acres near Thibault Road in Little Rock recently. Berrey says the focus is now on determining what to do with the land. “We are more concerned right now about our history and reestablishing ourselves to the people and children in Arkansas. We were part of the very beginning of the state and we want to be part of the future state of Arkansas,” he said.
Berrey says the tribe has a strong business arm in Oklahoma, including a portfolio of gas stations, restaurants, hotel, spa, golf course and two casinos, all of which provide more than 2,000 jobs through its enterprises in Oklahoma. So, KARK asked him about the possibility of duplicating the business model in Little Rock. He makes it clear, the group doesn’t have any plans right now to build a casino or anything else in Pulaski County, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility.
“I would never say never. We would love to help the state out in any fiscal situation. We would love to employ a lot of people. We have a great record in doing those type of things. So if the opportunity arises, we would probably take advantage of it , but right now, we are trying to protect it and be a good steward of what we own,” said Berrey, who also does acknowledge there has been mystery surrounding the possibility. “I just think people try to put stuff together that may or may not exist. (The tribe) can game. We don’t know what the opportunities are in Arkansas, but we just want to be part of the state,” reiterating his sentiment that there is no timetable to making a decision.
“Native Americans can have casinos under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. We have two, very beautiful, very nice casinos and are very successful in the casino business. We are very efficient and we have a very nice product and we are a big economic impact on the region,” said Berrey.
Located east of downtown near the Clinton National Airport, the recently-acquired tribal property has important historic and cultural ties to the area. To better understand the tribe’s ambitions and loyalties, Arkansas Business provided a concise and contextual history in a feature around the time of the purchase:
The newly acquired tribal property is on part of a natural levee that extends northwest from the former Thibault Plantation to the Clinton National Airport. This strip of high ground was home to a string of scattered dwellings and farms that date to 1300-1500 A.D.
Graves are part of the cultural equation, too. Local denizens of the era favored burials near and even in their dwellings. The Arkansas Archeological Survey will conduct a detailed survey of the property for the tribe to identify the historical secrets it contains. “It wasn’t a big, compact village,” said Tom Green, Director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Berrey, a University of Arkansas journalism graduate, also noted that in addition to its “tremendous cultural significance,” the property possessed “economic development potential.” Most of the tribe’s property along the east side of Thibault Road is devoted to farming, and more than 20 acres is wooded.
That choice of names pays homage to the tribe’s name (Ugaxpa in the native tongue, meaning downstream people) and is a reference to the tribe’s migration downstream from the Ohio River Valley to what would become Arkansas.
Oh, and as far as that little “presidential appointment” quip I wrote about — well, perhaps these guys do have their Red State Bonafides in order on a very “different front” after all:
The tribe most associated with Arkansas (including the state name) is now associated with a highly successful gaming development: Downstream Casino Resort in Oklahoma. On a different business front, the Quapaw Tribal Business Committee recently bought a 51% stake in Detonics Defense Technologies LLC, a high-end handgun maker.
“This is a very exciting venture that if all goes well will position the Quapaw Tribe as a premier minority contractor in the law enforcement and handgun training space for military, state and local law enforcement,” Berrey also noted in The Quapaw Tribal News. “It’s a very exciting mix.”