As voter referendums quickly approach in the Old Dominion, where exactly is the Virginia casino opposition?
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly cleared the path for Virginia casinos in five cities.
Four of those cities – Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth – will determine their casino fate during the general election on Nov. 3. Richmond residents will have their say with its voter referendum in 2021.
With the other elections now a little more than two months away, opposition to these Virginia casino-resorts hasn’t been very visible. However, a few anti-casino groups are beginning to emerge, and their efforts are coming in a variety of forms.
Virginia casino opposition includes Danville PAC
Some of the first organized opposition came from Danville resident Eric Stamps.
Stamps, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the House of Delegates District 14 in 2019, launched a political action committee (PAC) earlier this month. Dubbed the Local Action PAC, the effort opposes Caesars Entertainment’s plan to build a $400 million casino-resort.
However, Stamps has argued that “a large segment of the population” isn’t having their voice heard in the casino debate. Additionally, Stamps expressed concern over hiring practices, the total number of jobs, potential salaries, societal impact and COVID-19 precautions during construction.
However, Caesars Entertainment and Danville officials have addressed essentially all those concerns in recent media coverage. Still, though, time isn’t on his side. Stamps plans to amplify his message with town halls, signage and mailers in the coming weeks.
Local churches target Bristol casino
To the west of Danville could be a potential Bristol casino. If voters approve the referendum, Hard Rock International plans to begin construction. It would result in the $400 million Hard Rock Bristol Hotel and Casino.
The project would tap into the city’s rich country music roots as part of an expansive outdoor entertainment and live concert venue.
However, four area churches have recently banded together to oppose the casino. They are distributing an eight-page magazine to explain why.
The churches include State Street Church of Christ and East Bristol Church of Christ, both of which are in Bristol. Nearby Lebanon Church of Christ and Abingdon Church of Christ also joined the coalition.
The magazine focuses on addiction, crime, family impact and the “spiritual cost” of casinos. The literature pulls from the Bible, professional groups such as the American Psychiatric Association and the polarizing Focus on the Family fundamentalist Christian organization.
The publication, which is dubbed “House to House, Heart to Heart,” provides a bit of a muddled message, and it’s hard to know if it’ll have much of an impact. However, there’s something to be said for an organized message from church leaders who understandably could have a lot of sway with their congregations.
Norfolk opposition cites inexperience
In the far northeast of the commonwealth, Norfolk is preparing for a potential casino of its own. The city partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on the Norfolk casino (and a potential Richmond casino).
A group of citizens called “Informed Norfolk” has waged a public relations campaign against the potential $500 million project. The group is a successor to the “Citizens for an Informed Norfolk” group that formed last year.
The planned Norfolk casino has faced a few hurdles that other potential Virginia casino cities haven’t. The Norfolk City Council had to rescind a previous agreement that would have allowed the casino site to remain Pamunkey Indian Tribe land. That change, which followed petitions and public hearings, assures that Norfolk will receive tax revenue despite the tribe receiving federal recognition that could have prevented collection.
That change came after public pushback last year when the Informed Norfolk group sprung to action. Group members say Norfolk officials rushed the deal with little public input.
Now, the committee is encouraging residents to vote down the Norfolk casino referendum. Group members have written newspaper op-eds. Recently they’ve criticized the inexperience of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and its partners, Golden Eagle Consulting II, LLC, and Tennessee billionaire John Yarbrough, over their lack of casino development experience. They’ve discounted the tribe’s promises of jobs, tax revenue, and tourism as “propaganda” and not fully accurate.
Like other cities, Norfolk residents will ultimately decide the groups’ fate on Nov. 3.