Saracen Credit Ratings Go Up

Saracen Credit Ratings Go Up
Gamblers play slot machines at the Saracen Annex in Pine Bluff last year. (Karen E. Segrave)

Back in September, you might have seen that Saracen Development LLC received upgrades to its credit ratings from both Moody’s and S&P Global Ratings, on the same day.

As you know, Saracen is a wholly owned company of the Quapaw Nation, which owns the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

The improved ratings are “a testament really to the kind of different philosophy that we brought in in terms of a change of tribal leadership,” Quapaw’s Secretary-Treasurer Guy Barker told Whispers last month. “The makeup of the entire board of directors is different now.”

Last year, Quapaw Nation Business Committee Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd defeated former Quapaw Nation Business Committee Chairman John Berrey in a July vote of fewer than 900 tribe members.

S&P raised its issuer-credit rating on Saracen to B- from CCC. (An AA+ rating is excellent.)

Moody upgraded Saracen’s corporate family rating and $285 million senior secured notes due in 2025 to B3 from Caa1.

According to a Saracen news release, Moody’s said the casino resort will generate annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of between $64 million and $70 million in its first complete year of operations, above Moody’s prior $60 million first-year EBITDA expectation. “This performance was despite the challenges and uncertainty related to the coronavirus and Moody’s initial concerns that there is only a limited history of commercial gaming in Arkansas,” the release said.

Barker said he was “over the moon” with the improved ratings. “The timing was really great for some of these projects that we’ve got in terms of seeking out better financing,” he said. “This has been really my No. 1 project since I took office a little over a year ago.”

Barker said the improved rating “gives us the flexibility to work with other financial institutions in order to raise additional capital.

“It also helps us situate ourselves for a little bit better financing,” he said. “That’s in the works now. We don’t have anything quite finalized.”

The groundbreaking for the 300-room hotel portion of Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff is on target for March and construction should start later in the spring, Barker said.

The 80,000-SF Saracen Casino Resort gaming floor opened in October 2020.