First Virginia Casino To Open? Hard Rock Bristol Aims For Title

Written By Dann Stupp on October 21, 2021 - Last Updated on August 1, 2023
First Virginia casino

Which will be the first Virginia casino to open its doors to gamblers, foodies, and entertainment-seekers of all sorts?

The folks behind the in-development Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol plan to be the first out of the gate.

Construction is underway on the $500 million Virginia casino and resort, which will be located in the Virginia city of Bristol on the Tennessee border.

Residents, who overwhelmingly voted in favor of Hard Rock Bristol, may not be seeing much progress on the project. But behind the scenes, one executive said things are moving at a hurried pace.

Hard Rock Bristol wants to be first Virginia casino

Hard Rock Bristol wants to be the first casino to open. In fact, initially after the casino referendum easily passed in Bristol, officials had mentioned the possibility of opening a temporary casino by the end of 2021.

Logistics, including the slow regulatory process, ultimately will make that goal unachievable. However, because Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol will reside on the former site of the Bristol Mall (and use some of the existing infrastructure), it could get to the finish line fairly quickly.

That’s why Hard Rock Bristol could open before casinos in Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Voters in all three of those cities also approved casinos during the 2020 Election Cycle. Richmond voters, meanwhile, vote on their own referendum during the 2021 election cycle. Even if the Richmond referendum passes, it’d be all but impossible for the resort to open before Hard Rock Bristol plans to.

As Martin Kent, the president of The United Company, told the Kingsport Times News:

“We are the first because we have existing infrastructure to be able to move forward. Not only is this new for Virginia, but we are probably ahead of the sphere in Bristol as far as being able to go forward with the casino project and ultimately the full resort. … I want to reassure folks this project is still going forward. We’re still working on it even though you’re not seeing the exterior renovations. Maybe you thought by now you would, but I can assure you a lot is going on. It remains a priority. We are moving forward with it.”

The United Company and its chairman and CEO, Jim McGlothlin, teamed with Hard Rock on the project. Project officials aren’t requiring any public money, tax breaks, or other incentives for the casino.

When do other VA casinos open?

Hard Rock Bristol will have some truly unique characteristics when it comes to the Virginia casino market.

With its location adjacent to Tennessee, it’ll likely lure in many patrons from the Volunteer State. Additionally, with its rich bluegrass and country music history, as well its partnership with Hard Rock, the Bristol casino could especially appeal to a younger audience. After all, it’ll also have a live-music venue and amphitheater with a packed concert schedule.

More importantly, the casino-resort will likely be first-to-market. Here are the tentative casino opening date for Virginia’s other casinos:

Of course, as the pacesetter, Kent said Hard Rock Bristol will be tasked with navigating a lot of the hurdles and red tape.

“The fact of the matter is it’s a new industry to Virginia, and we are the first to get the ball moving,” he told the Kingsport newspaper. “There are a lot of nuances that we’re navigating as we move forward.

What to expect with Hard Rock Bristol

Upon its full completion, Hard Rock Bristol, which will likely be the first Virginia casino to open, will feature an array of attractions.

The highlights include:

  • 350-room hotel that will eventually expand to 700 rooms
  • 100,000-square-foot casino
  • 50,000-square-foot conference and meeting center
  • Sportsbook and poker room

In addition to the live-music venues, Hard Rock Bristol is also expected to have a variety of restaurants, bars, and retail outlets, as well as a pool and spa.

Photo by Dreamstime / Sergii Gnatiuk
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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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