Ready To Rock: Virginia Lottery Approves Preliminary Application For Potential Bristol Casino

Posted on July 13, 2020 - Last Updated on August 21, 2020

If voters in Bristol approve casino gaming this fall, developers connected to a potential Hard Rock Casino will be ready to work. The project has cleared its first regulatory hurdle.

The Virginia Lottery‘s board of directors approved Hard Rock’s pre-certification application on Friday. While that’s a positive sign for casino hopefuls, the biggest test remains ahead.

Update on the status of Hard Rock Bristol

The approval of Hard Rock’s application essentially means the VA Lottery is aware that Hard Rock is the potential developer in Bristol and approves of that situation.

However, it doesn’t mean Hard Rock is licensed to offer casino games in Bristol. The lottery currently has no authority to offer such licenses.

That’s what Bristol voters will decide in November. If voters should acquiesce, Hard Rock could then submit a formal license application as soon as the forms are ready.

In anticipation of approval, Hard Rock is likely working to make as many arrangements as possible for starting construction, contingent upon that vote. The preliminary plans focus on the old Bristol Mall.

The future of the mall has been uncertain since its closure in August 2017. Former designs included an independent casino and a cannabinoid production facility.

The picture cleared up, at least for the time being, in late May. That’s when Bristol’s city council unanimously approved Hard Rock’s plans for the site.

With the lottery’s approval, Hard Rock seems to have an edge on getting its VA casino up and running first. Bristol’s location is pivotal to its potential success.

Why Bristol is an ideal spot for a casino

Bristol’s population, which was less than 18,000 at the 2010 census, doesn’t make it a casino hot spot. It’s all about the most important three words in real estate: location, location and location.

Bristol sits on the Tennessee border and is about a two-hour drive from Knoxville, TN. The city is also the closest to Kentucky of the five VA cities that may approve casinos within their borders.

For the foreseeable future, both of those states have no casinos within their borders. Gambling expansion in TN in 2019 only focused on online sports betting. Kentucky’s failed attempt to expand gambling this year didn’t include brick-and-mortar casinos either.

The Hard Rock Bristol would be uniquely situated to attract visitors from three states. That’s, of course, if voters approve. Right now, that looks likely.

Mostly positive signs for the referendum

Although a Facebook page opposing a casino in Bristol does exist, the page has a mere 453 followers and no posts since May 16. Little other evidence of an organized campaign to defeat the referendum exists.

The unanimous approval of Hard Rock’s plans and comments during two public forums suggest support for the project. Hard Rock’s selling points for securing the contract with the city may also be the strongest selling points for the referendum.

Hard Rock plans to offer new dining and shopping options at its facility. In addition, it included indoor and outdoor entertainment spaces in its design.

Perhaps, most enticing are 2,000 new jobs and an estimated $20 million in new annual tax revenue for Bristol. For a city whose budgeted local revenue for the fiscal year 2019 was just under $33.9 million, it would be a tremendous increase.

All the estimates wholly depend on voters’ decisions this fall, however. The lottery’s decision means if that vote goes well, developers will be ready to rock.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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