Food Banks, A Norfolk Casino And Calls For An Investigation

Posted on October 2, 2020 - Last Updated on November 3, 2020

Although there’s no doubt that the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and its Yes Norfolk Referendum Committee did some good, the perceived tackiness left something to be desired.

The Yes Norfolk effort hopes to bring a Norfolk casino to the Virginia city.

Voters will determine the fate of the $500 million Norfolk Resort & Casino on Nov. 3. Norfolk residents will cast ballots as part of the voter referendum to possibly greenlight the project.

However, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which is the casino partner for the Norfolk casino, seemed to irk some of the very voters it hopes to win over.

It’s all due to some donations to food banks – and the accompanying messaging.

Flyers from Yes Norfolk Referendum Committee

As WAVY.com reported, Norfolk casino opponents call for an investigation into some recent donations to multiple food banks.

The bags of groceries featured a flyer with a pro-casino logo and this messaging:

“This food is provided by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. As members of the community, we are proud to be a partner serving others during this difficult time.”

Oof.

Supporting folks who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic? Getting resources to places that no doubt need as many donations as possible? Delivering on the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s long-stated promise to improve the city’s access to food?

No one can fault those efforts to fight food insecurity, especially in light of the city’s economic struggles.

But the flyers? The tagline of, “The Paid for and Authorized by the Yes Norfolk Committee?” The sheer optics of it all?

Yeah, that all clearly rubbed some people the wrong way.

Courtesy: All In For Norfolk Casino

Calls for an investigation into Yes Norfolk

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is the sole donor to the Yes Norfolk Referendum Committee. Therefore, critics knew exactly where to direct their anger.

As Alan Smith, who’s part of the Informed Norfolk citizens group that opposes the Norfolk casino, asked in his WAVY interview:

“It just seemed wrong. Why were they politicizing the distribution of food to some of our most vulnerable and needy people?”

Smith and others wonder if it’s also illegal under Virginia law and IRS nonprofit regulations. They believe the flyers could be deemed illegal campaign materials.

However, Norfolk’s commonwealth attorney reportedly hasn’t yet responded to their complaints.

If nothing else, the flyers have already proven to be a bit of a public relations misstep.

Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s community promise

In August, Pamunkey Indian Tribe Chief Robert Gray hosted a press conference to stump for the Norfolk casino.

Part of his pitch was that access to food would be part of the project’s community involvement. In fact, during that press conference, the tribe announced a new $150,000 grocery store in the St. Paul area. The neighborhood, which includes several public housing communities, became a food desert earlier this year following the closing of its lone grocery store.

The tribe said they would build the new grocery store regardless of whether the casino referendum passes in Norfolk.

As for the Norfolk casino-resort itself, officials promise it’ll continue the revitalizing of the Elizabeth River waterfront in downtown. Norfolk Resort & Casino would feature a 300-room hotel, casino, sportsbook and full entertainment complex with world-class restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and other features.

Tribe officials say the project could create 2,500 permanent jobs and more than 2,000 temporary construction jobs.

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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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