Residents in four of the commonwealth’s cities have or will soon cast their ballots as part of next week’s Virginia casino voting.
Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth could all vote in favor of bringing a casino resort to their city. Each city is hosting a voter referendum to determine its casino fate.
However, with Election Day just a week away and early voting well underway, each casino race looks a little different.
As we gear up for a pivotal Nov. 3 in The Old Dominion, let’s look at what’s at stake with the 2020 VA casino referendums.
Virginia casino voting down to wire
In March the Virginia House and Senate passed HB4. By doing so, the VA General Assembly legalized both sports betting and casino gambling.
The first Virginia sports betting companies should be online and taking bets by January.
However, the first Virginia casinos likely won’t open until 2023. Still, developers, regulators and other key folks will be plenty busy in the following year if the voter referendums are successful.
If voters approve casino gambling on Nov. 3, the Secretary of State then needs to certify the results. Once the results are official, each city can formally present its preferred casino partner to the Virginia Lottery for approval. By April 2021, the cities will receive the final casino regulations. Then, Virginia Lottery officials will begin accepting formal applications, and they have up to one year to render a decision.
The VA legislature initially chose each potential casino host city based on:
- Property taxes
- Unemployment rate
- Poverty rate
- Population decrease
The idea is that each casino can be a source of jobs, tax revenue, tourism and overall economic improvement for its host city. In fact, proponents have focused heavily on those potential benefits.
Opponents, meanwhile, have questioned everything from true job creation numbers, transparency and experience to morality and societal impact.
Four of the five cities will host a referendum this year and vote on casinos. However, the city of Richmond won’t vote on the fate of the proposed Pamunkey Casino Resort Richmond until 2021 with its own referendum.
VA casino referendums by city
Here’s an election update on the four Virginia cities that will vote on casino ballot initiatives in 2020:
Bristol casino voting
Property: Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol
Partner: Hard Rock International
Details: The $400 million casino resort would be built on the former site of the Bristol Mall. It would have all the usual features you’d expect from a major resort. However, the property would also feature a 3,200-seat live music concert venue. Bristol, after all, has a rich country music history, which would be on display throughout the resort. Local business leaders Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy are leading the project locally.
Election overview: The project has support from the mayor, school board chairman, police chief, local newspaper and many Bristol business leaders. As the newspaper’s op-ed board asked, “Can Bristol afford to turn down this opportunity?” A pro-casino referendum committee has also been quite active in promoting that messaging. However, the most vocal opposition has come from a coalition of Bristol-area churches. They’ve paid for several billboards around the area that warn of the “fool’s gold” offered by casinos. The churches also question the longterm viability of the project.
Danville casino voting
Property: Caesars Casino Resort Danville
Partner: Caesars Entertainment
Details: Danville’s $400 million casino and resort would feature a hotel, convention center, arena, pool, spa, fitness center, restaurants and bars. Caesars Entertainment would build the property on the site of the Dan River Mills industrial complex in Schoolfield. The empty facility has become a bit of a riverfront eyesore but would be transformed as part of the resort overhaul.
Election overview: The Danville City Council voted unanimously in favor of the Caesars deal in September. The “Caesars For Danville” campaign and committee features the Danville mayor, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and the president of nearby Averett University. Opposition to the casino hasn’t been very organized, but it’s come in many forms. The Defend Danville group has questioned the casino’s impact on society. Other residents have expressed concern over transparency, and some businesses question the societal impact of a casino.
Norfolk casino voting
Property: Pamunkey Casino Resort Norfolk
Partner: Pamunkey Indian Tribe
Details: The $500 million waterfront casino and resort would be situated in downtown Norfolk. It would be on a 14-acre site next to the Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium. The city of Norfolk chose the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for the project. The tribe, which earned federal recognition in 2016, has already begun to deliver on its promise to support and reinvest in the community as part of its alliance with the city. Tennessee billionaire Jon Yarbrough would also support the tribe and the casino project.
Election overview: Proponents, including the All In for Norfolk Casino Committee and tribe-funded Yes Norfolk PAC, have focused on the project’s potential jobs, tax revenue and its contribution to the continued riverfront revitalization. They’ve also lauded the project’s ability to diversify Norfolk’s economy, which relies heavily on military spending and transportation. However, some of Virginia’s best-organized casino opposition has come from Informed Norfolk. The citizens group has questioned the Pamunkey tribe’s experience with such projects, the deal’s lack of transparency, and the tribe’s history with “black laws.”
Portsmouth casino voting
Property: Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort
Partner: Rush Street Gaming
Details: Rush Street Gaming would build the $300 million casino, hotel and entertainment complex on the site at Victory Boulevard and Cavalier Boulevard. The experienced casino developer could face competition from a nearby Norfolk casino. The two properties would be located approximately six miles apart if voters greenlight both projects.
Election overview: Interested parties have eyed Portsmouth as a potential casino site for nearly a decade. As a result, many of the questions and concerns have already been addressed. Additionally, many proponents said the current timing is key. After all, Norfolk could beat Portsmouth to the punch and enjoy the spoils if it’s the lone casino in the area. Still, Portsmouth casino opposition has come in many forms, and notable figures in the community are part of the group.