HeadWaters Casino Slated For Norfolk Once Again Pulls Plans for Review

Written By Phil West on January 23, 2024 - Last Updated on January 24, 2024
Aerial photo of the future location of the HeadWaters Casino in Norfolk on a story about design plans being delayed.

The proposed HeadWaters Resort and Casino in Norfolk is hitting another delay in its path to approval. Representatives for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe were to present plans to the city’s Architectural Review Board on Monday night, but for the second time this month, they opted to not present at the meeting.

There are currently three Virginia casinos, two in temporary facilities — Bristol Hard Rock Casino and Caesars Virginia (Danville). Rivers Casino Portsmouth is in a permanent home.

Norfolk voters approved a casino in their city in 2020.

HeadWaters casino plans need additional design work

Project representative Jay Smith provided some clarity for the reasons behind this latest delay. As the Virginian-Pilot reported, the plans were pulled so architecture and engineering teams could “produce the additional design work necessary to address the direction provided by City Council.”

“Until that work is completed, we have asked for a continuance before the ARB,” Smith wrote in an email response to PlayVirginia to questions about the project. “As soon as we are confident that the plans meet the needs of the city and tribe, we will ask to be put on the ARB agenda.”

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander added:

“I still await them to turn in what’s required based on the development agreement. The development agreement spells out what they should be submitting.”

Alexander emphasized to the Virginian-Pilot that “plans for the casino must adhere to the language of the 2020 referendum approved by voters,” and stated, “If (the casino) doesn’t happen, it’s not on the city of Norfolk, this will solely rest with the developer and the applicant.”

Beyond earning retail casino revenue, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe would benefit greatly from building a casino, as it would give the tribe likely access to an iGaming license if and when Virginia online casinos are legalized down the road.

Casino also delayed review at beginning of January

Following the news that the review would move from the Jan. 8 meeting to Monday night’s meeting, Smith told PlayVirginia, “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.”

Voters approved a referendum to build a casino in Norfolk in 2020, but the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s plans have run into various obstacles. Given the requirement that the casino must be operational within five years of voter approval, the clock is ticking on the project. To move forward, the Norfolk City Council must approve the planned waterfront casino complex, and going before the Architectural Review Board is the first of several steps remaining.

Back in December, Smith expressed confidence that the project would be able to move through the review process and win the City Council’s approval in time for construction to begin in the spring.

HeadWaters still slated for November 2025 opening

From there, Smith projected that half of the casino’s eventual 1,800 to 2,000 gaming machines and 50 table games would be operational by November 2025, with construction to continue while HeadWaters Resort & Casino opens its doors to the public.

Alexander notes, however, that he still needs to see the construction schedule from the developers.

Currently, the only permanent facility operating as a casino in Virginia is Rivers Casino Portsmouth, just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk. The two temporary casinos in operation are on the state’s southern border, though there’s now momentum building — via a bill from state Sen. David Marsden to put a casino in Fairfax County to serve customers in the “DMV.”

Richmond voters, meanwhile, have rejected two attempts to build a casino in the state capital.

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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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