City Review Delay Could Add Another Hold Up For Proposed Norfolk Casino

Written By Phil West on January 10, 2024 - Last Updated on January 12, 2024
Night rendering of the proposed HeadWaters Casino in Norfolk on a story about a review delay of the plans for the casino.

A proposed casino on the Norfolk waterfront hit another snag in the approval process.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has been aiming to build the HeadWaters Resort and Casino since voters approved it in a November 2020 referendum. The tribe was expected to present its current project plans at the city’s architectural review board hearing this week. It’s the first of several steps the plans must clear for construction to start in the spring.

But as the Virginian-Pilot reported on Tuesday, HeadWaters representatives are now preparing to present on Jan. 22, which could again push the project back.

Project spokesperson offers no specifics on delay

Virginia lawmakers approved casinos in five cities in 2020: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. Four years later, just one permanent casino has opened, Rivers Casino Portsmouth. Two temporary casinos are operating in Bristol (Hard Rock Hotel and Casino) and Danville (Caesars Danville) while permanent facilities are being built. Richmond voters have twice rejected building a casino in the state capital city, and Virginia online casinos remain illegal.

Upon clearing the architectural review board, the HeadWaters plans will then go before a planning commission. Then, it’s on to the Norfolk City Council for final approval. Should City Council approve the sale of the land to the tribe, project spokesperson Jay Smith said construction could start almost immediately.

Smith told PlayVirginia in a statement a few things must be ironed out before the plans can go before the architectural review board.

“The tribe and its development partner have met with the City Council and staff to discuss a number of issues concerning the project and site, and we are working diligently to address those issues in full before presenting to the ARB.”

He didn’t clarify further as to whether he believed the current hiccup would delay construction or which specific issues concerning the project need to be reconciled with the City Council. According to the Virginian-Pilot, “Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said he was unaware of any issues with the latest proposal and deferred questions to the developer.”

Several weeks ago, Smith regarded the then-planned Monday meeting with optimism, noting that the construction plan contingent on city approval involves “an aggressive but very doable project timeline.”

HeadWaters project facing November 2025 opening deadline

Getting the project under construction before summer would help HeadWaters Casino meet a vital deadline. The voter-approved referendum requires at least a portion of HeadWaters to be open for business by November 2025.

The current plan for the casino – aiming for 1,800 to 2,000 gaming machines and 50 table games – calls for about half of those offerings to be available by that deadline, while the remainder of the casino is being built.

The Virginian-Pilot also noted that the plan has undergone several different variations since voters gave it the green light. One plan was to open a temporary location in Harbor Park. It was scrapped “in 2022 after Virginian-Pilot reporting revealed it would not meet the specifications of the 2020 voter referendum.”

Photo by Courtesy HeadWaters Casino
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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