Focusing On Economy, Local Newspaper Urges Bristol Casino Support

Written By Dann Stupp on September 14, 2020 - Last Updated on August 2, 2023

The local newspaper is encouraging residents of the southwest-Virginia city to support the Hard Rock Bristol Hotel and Casino, hoping a casino could fix the Bristol economy.

The Bristol Herald Courier editorial board recently titled its column, “Casino is the best hope for brighter future.”

The endorsement could be a solid boost for supporters of the $400 million project.

Voters can formally approve ballot measures involving Virginia casinos during the general election vote on Nov. 3.

New jobs for the Bristol economy

As the daily newspaper’s editorial board notes, the city’s 18,000 residents are still split on the casino referendum. “We’re betting on Bristol” and “Don’t gamble with Bristol’s future” signs dot lawns across the Virginia-Tennessee border city.

So, why has the newspaper come out in support of the project?

As the editorial board wrote, the “financial benefits alone should give detractors pause:”

“The project is expected to initially create 2,000 jobs with combined annual wages of $90 million, with $15 million to $20 million generated for the city in annual tax revenues. These numbers do not include the city’s share of annual gaming tax revenue, which will be significant. … The question remains: Can Bristol afford to turn down this opportunity?”

Casino can help a struggling Bristol economy

The Bristol economy has been slowly recovering from years of struggle.

The difficulties included mounting city debt and a strain on its education system. Also, the collapse of the coal industry and US manufacturing hit the region hard. It led to increases in poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, crime and jail overcrowding.

Bristol shares a name and a border with its Tennessee counterpart. Visitors will notice that the two Bristols often look and feel like one. They even share a city library, water system and emergency medical services. However, Virginia’s Bristol has struggled financially far more than its Tennessee counterpart.

Part of that struggle is because Virginia is the only state in the country in which cities are independent entities. Unlike Tennessee’s Bristol, Virginia’s Bristol isn’t attached to the county and doesn’t share resources.

Still, just as Bristol, VA, was making substantial changes to fix its economy, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

As the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board wrote in its support of the Bristol casino:

“The country as a whole is in recession, and (Bristol) has longstanding, unrelated financial hardships that make it particularly vulnerable: aging infrastructure and declining revenue as a result of population movement away from the area. The project may be Bristol’s best chance to change its story for the better — and certainly, millions of dollars in new revenue, as well as related dollars and attention from out-of-town visitors, will help.”

Impact of Hard Rock Bristol

Hard Rock Bristol Hotel and Casino would have a 100,000-square-feet casino space, 600 hotel rooms, 25,000 square-foot sportsbook, conference space, and 50 retail shops and restaurants.

The former Bristol Mall would be renovated to make room for the resort. Locals have long said the abandoned site is currently an eyesore in the city.

The Hard Rock brand would also help Bristol tap into and celebrate its rich music history. It could be a major tourist destination for country-music diehards.

In addition to the initial jobs, which would have an average salary of $46,500, more could be on the way. Total Hard Rock Bristol jobs could expand to 5,200 within seven years of the project’s completion, officials said.

As the newspaper’s editorial board wrote:

“Tax revenues to overcome longstanding hardships on a local and regional level. Thousands of new jobs. Revitalized schools and neighborhoods. A commercial ripple effect of more businesses and tourists. … We urge residents to consider the immense opportunities available — and vote for approval.”

Four out of five Virginia casino referendums will be on the general election ballot on Nov. 3. Three VA casinos will eventually host sportsbooks, as the commonwealth legalized sports betting in Virginia in July.

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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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