VA Lottery Has Bad News About Bristol’s Plans To Open In 2021

Written By Dann Stupp on November 19, 2020 - Last Updated on August 2, 2023

Hard Rock officials and the City of Bristol are moving forward on a $400 million casino-resort. However, the initial timeline for a temporary Bristol casino may have been a bit optimistic.

On Tuesday Virginia Lottery Executive Kevin Hall addressed the Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee. During his state-of-the-lottery address, he discussed the makeshift precursor to the Hard Rock Bristol Hotel and Casino.

According to Hall, the temporary Bristol casino is likely to open in the first half of 2022.

Hard Rock and Bristol officials initially had been hoping for a late-2021 opening.

Test run with temporary Bristol Casino

Bristols voter overwhelmingly approved casino gambling within the southwest-Virginia city. In fact, among the four VA cities that voted in favor of casinos, Bristol residents did so by the largest margin: 71% for and just 29% against.

Hard Rock Bristol, which will reside within the existing Bristol Mall, will have 350 hotel rooms and will eventually expand to 700.

Additionally, the Virginia casino will have a casino, sportsbook, conference center, live-music venue, amphitheater, bars, restaurants, retail shops, spa, pool, and more.

Soon after the vote on Election Day on Nov. 3, Bristol City Manager Randy Eads mentioned late-2021 as a possible opening date. So, too, did Bristol Vice Mayor Anthony Farnum, who said a ground-breaking could come in just six to nine months.

Hard Rock officials want to use the temporary Bristol casino as a place to train employees before the formal launch.

Additionally, the early launch would give Bristol a crucial head-start on other planned casinos in Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.

VA Lottery’s next steps for casino regulations

The Virginia Lottery began drafting emergency casino gaming regulations in September.

Now, after a successful casino referendum in each host city, the VA Lottery Board will review and vote on emergency gaming regulations on Feb. 3.

Next up after that:

  • April 7, 2021: Statutory deadline for emergency casino gambling regulations to take effect; VA Lottery to begin drafting permanent casino regulations via the regular rulemaking process
  • Late spring/early summer 2021: Casino operators begin applying for licenses
  • Late spring/early summer 2022: Deadline for VA Lottery’s 12-month window to conduct “suitability” background investigations on casino operators and key personnel, after which licenses will be issued

So, how does a temporary Bristol casino fit into the timeline?

VA Lottery director stresses importance of vetting

According to Hall, it’s not just casinos that must receive licenses.

That’s why the late-2021 timeline for the temporary Bristol casino opening probably won’t work.

“The statute makes a specific provision for a temporary permit for casino gaming once an applicant has been licensed,” Hall said. “So, that would occur after the background vetting of the casino operator and their key management personnel, for which we are allowed up to one year.

“I’d also mention that suppliers would also need to be vetted and licensed by the agency. That’s the companies providing slot machines – even companies that provide (playing) cards and dice. And any employees would also have had to been vetted before a temporary casino could open.”

Assuming all that happens as scheduled, when could Bristol casino patrons actually hit the slots and play table games?

Hall said the following:

“Temporary casino gaming, whether it happens in a tent or in a vacant store, also would have a requirement to install cameras so that all of the gaming activity can be monitored for safety, and all of the slot machines would have to be connected to a central gaming system so that activity can be monitored and audited. So, we think it is highly unlikely that even an operator seeking a temporary permit could actually be operating casino gaming until April of 2022 at the earliest.”

According to Hall and individual casino operators, Virginia’s first casinos will likely open between mid-2022 to early 2023.

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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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