Another Delay For Norfolk Casino As Tribe Moves Land Purchase Deadline

Written By T.J. McBride on November 3, 2023
Photo of the temporary location for the HeadWaters Resort and Casino on a story about how the tribe operating the facility has put off purchasing the land until 2025.

Plans to build a casino in Norfolk have gone through several adjustments and delays since residents voted for a casino referendum in 2020. A new delay occurred this week, when the Pamunkey Indian Tribe exercised an option in its contract with the city of Norfolk to move the deadline to purchase casino land by a year, to January 2025.

The bad news is that it could again hold up a casino being built in Norfolk that residents overwhelmingly desire. The good news is that this is the last extension allowed in the contract, so it should finally get the ball rolling.

The tribe is expected to submit an updated full proposal on the casino project to the city in December. Approval should take several months before the tribe can officially purchase 13 acres next to Harbor Park for $10 million and begin building a $500 million casino resort.

Extension might not actually delay the project

In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation allowing voters in five cities to choose whether they wanted a casino in their city. The next year, voters approved casinos in Norfolk, Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville. Richmond residents voted down the proposal but will get another chance on Nov. 7 to approve a casino in that city. Virginia online casinos remain illegal.

Out of the four cities that approved casinos, only Norfolk remains void. There are either casinos or ones being built in Danville, Bristol and Portsmouth. They generated nearly $52 million of revenue in September.

State legislator Barry Knight told 10 On Your Side’s Brett Hall that he’s frustrated.

“We have had four referendums approved, there is a casino up and going in Danville, Bristol and Portsmouth. My question is, why is there not one in Norfolk?”

The project has been marred with adjustments and delays. The original plan was to build and open a temporary casino while construction on the permanent resort was completed. Those plans were thrown out in June and replaced with a two-phase proposal. The city balked at the project being built in two phases, saying voters did not approve that. The most recent extension of the deadline on the land purchase is the second time the tribe has exercised it.

The tribe and Golden Eagle Consulting II have been meeting with city leaders regularly on the HeadWaters Resort & Casino project. Even with the delays, HeadWaters remains committed to getting the casino built and open as soon as possible, company spokesperson Jay Smith told WAVY.

“We expect to provide further updates in the coming weeks that underscore the tribe’s unwavering commitment to get this project under construction as soon as possible to provide the jobs and tax revenue that the city of Norfolk and the commonwealth of Virginia are expecting from our destination resort and casino.”

This extension does not mean it will take until January 2025 for the sale to be completed. It only opens the window for approval for a longer period. If plans are solidified in the next few months, the sale should move forward prior to the deadline.

Single proposal will include two phases of construction

The tribe is set to submit final plans on the project next month, according to Smith.

“Which would put us on the calendar to get into the Architectural Review Board, and the Planning Commission in January, and then move onto the Norfolk City Council in February.”

The plans are being submitted as one proposal, but construction will take place in two phases. This seems to be a compromise with the city, which demanded one proposal.

Smith outlined the phases of construction.

“The first phase will include the casino floor, parking, as well as one of the restaurants, and some back-of-house operations. In Phase 2, we will be adding the tower hotel and additional restaurants and other restaurant amenities.”

Smith is confident all of this work will be worth it once the casino is open.

“That is going to help business in the area, the Tides games, the museums, all the things Norfolk will have to offer. And in turn, everyone will benefit from additional tourism from people coming to Virginia because of this resort and casino.”

Photo by Shutterstock
T.J. McBride Avatar
Written by
T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He is a Nuggets beat writer and also covers the regulated gambling industry across the U.S. His byline can be seen at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and more.

View all posts by T.J. McBride