Pamunkey Tribe Ramps Up Efforts To Solidify Future Casinos In Two Virginia Cities

Posted on August 10, 2020 - Last Updated on August 26, 2020

As far as casinos in Virginia go, it’s getting real.

A future site for a Pamunkey tribal casino in Richmond now belongs to the tribe. Meanwhile, in Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, the push for casinos is more imminent.

While voters in those cities will decide whether to allow casinos in their backyards this fall, it looks like citizens of the state capital will have to wait for next year. The tribe has a backup plan if that Richmond referendum fails as well.

Where a Pamunkey tribal casino in Richmond may lie

What will $4 million get you in the Richmond area? Well, it won’t get you a 12.4-acre plot of land on Gordon Avenue in Manchester anymore. The tribe just took that off the market.

It’s not hard to read the tea leaves here. The tribe announced plans to build a $350 million casino and hotel in Manchester months ago.

Still, whether that land serves as a casino site is currently not entirely up to the Pamunkey. The city’s populace at large, via a public referendum, will decide that.

It’s uncertain right now when that will take place. It doesn’t look like it will happen this November, however. The earliest possibility would be a citywide election next fall.

Should voters approve, the tribe’s legwork will help speed the process along from there. Richmond isn’t the only place where the Pamunkey is active, however.

Tribe pushing for voter approval this fall in Norfolk

In Norfolk, the tribe plans to build a casino resort near Harbor Park. Just as in Richmond, the tribe needs voter approval to proceed. Norfolk residents will decide that question sooner, however.

Those voters will have a question on their ballots this November. The tribe is doing all it can right now to make as many of those votes a “yes” as possible.

In addition to funding a website arguing points for the casino project, the tribe has backed a political action committee. Those are nonprofit organizations that lobby for specific causes.

Norfolk residents should expect an inundation of advertising from the PAC. That will likely include local radio and television, social media and direct mail campaigns.

Norfolk residents won’t be the only Virginians to see such a media barrage, however. The same thing is already happening in Bristol. An advocacy group backed by the casino developers there is also trying to sway the vote the casino’s way.

In addition, citizens of Danville and Portsmouth should expect the same soon. “Vote Yes Portsmouth,” flush with over $100,000 of cash from Rush Street Gaming, is active on that front. Rush Street is the potential casino developer in Portsmouth.

In Danville, Caesars Entertainment occupies that role. The city just made its ballot measure for this November official, so it’s only a matter of time before Caesars probably starts its petitioning of residents.

If the ballot measures fail in Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, the developers will be out all their invested resources. That may not necessarily be the case in Richmond, however.

The Pamunkey’s ‘Plan B’ for a Richmond casino

If voters in Richmond say no, the tribe intends to use a workaround to put a tribal casino in the area. That path is a bit more complicated, though.

Many tribal casinos across the country sit on sovereign land, which the US Department of the Interior has taken into trust as a reservation for the tribes that operate them. The tribes negotiate gaming compacts with the federal government and local/state governments, then get to business.

That’s the exact route the Pamunkey would attempt to go with the territory they have acquired in the Richmond area. The first step would be to petition the Interior Department to create the trust and designate the land.

It could be a long process with potential for some complications along the way, but in the event of the Richmond referendum failing, it would be the tribe’s best option. For certain, no one can accuse the Pamunkey of just sitting on their hands and hoping things will go their way in either Norfolk or Richmond.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. 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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