Part one of two.
Like many Virginians who remember the big announcement a couple of years ago that Virginia would soon have its very own casinos where you could stay at a five star hotel, enjoy a musical performance or laugh with comedians, eat and drink all night at exciting new restaurants, and also visit the local sites in different and interesting parts of the state, you may be wondering just what is happening with those casinos that were coming to Virginia? Well, funny you should ask, because just last week the Virginia Lottery Board, which oversees the regulatory framework governing the establishment and operation of the lottery and privately-operated sports betting and casino gaming programs, unanimously approved the casino facility operator’s license for the Rivers Casino in Portsmouth. It is now the second casino operator’s license issued in Virginia. The first was awarded in April to Bristol’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which opened a temporary casino facility in July. There are two more proposed casinos working through this arduous process: Caesars, with an ownership interest from the Eastern Band of Cherokees, in Danville, and the Pamunkey Indians’ Headwaters Casino in Norfolk. There is so much to write about that I am publishing this casino update in two parts, this week and next.
In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation to legalize gaming in Virginia. As a member of the House General Laws Committee and Chair of the ABC & Gaming Subcommittee, I had the opportunity to play a role in working with my colleagues, and especially the patron of the bill, Chairman of Appropriations, Delegate Barry Knight, to adopt this landmark legislation. The bill authorized casinos in five Virginia cities – Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, Norfolk, and Richmond – pending approval by residents in a local voter referendum in each locality. Richmond’s referendum failed, but the voters overwhelmingly supported the casinos in the other four cities. Also, the legislation allows each project to open a ‘temporary casino’ while the permanent location is being constructed.
I am pleased to share that Virginia’s first casino – a temporary facility in Bristol - opened in July, following a festive Grand Opening ceremony which I had the pleasure to attend, along with other state leaders. ‘Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock’ (https://www.hardrockhotelcasinobristol.com/) is the first casino to be licensed and opened in Virginia, which is a historic milestone for the Commonwealth. The Bristol casino was the first to open because it had secured an existing location for the project, the former Bristol Mall. This temporary facility is operating until the permanent location opens in late 2024, which also will be located on that same site.
Each of these casino projects will bring significant tax revenue to the state, along with critical economic development opportunities – in terms of jobs and revenue – to their host city, and the surrounding region. I am particularly proud of the positive impact the Bristol project will have on all of the communities in Southwest Virginia. The General Assembly included in the legislation a provision that revenue proceeds from the Bristol casino would be shared with the 12 counties and two cities in what has historically been an economically depressed region. Quarterly payments to those local governments are being used to fund a host of critical education, transportation, and public safety projects benefiting local residents. In just the first month of operation, the Bristol casino generated over $2 million to be shared among these localities.
‘Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock’ has already become a major tourism destination, befitting any property that is connected with the legendary Hard Rock brand owned by the Seminole Indians. Within weeks of opening, the casino has attracted visitors from every US state, including Hawaii and Alaska, including yours truly who came to witness the grand opening. While the current site is temporary, I can tell you that it very much is a full-service casino, with 30,000 square feet of gaming space, featuring 870 slots, 21 tables and a sportsbook, all open to the public 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, with ample parking. The space includes a main casino floor as well as non-smoking and high-limit gaming areas. Guests are able to enjoy Mr. Lucky’s restaurant, Brick’d (a brick oven pizza and grab-and-go food outlet), and Bristol Bar, a sports bar and lounge with live entertainment. For fans of apparel featuring Hard Rock’s iconic logo, the casino has a retail shop offering the brand’s signature Rock Shop merchandise, and this is just the temporary casino.
I would encourage my constituents and all of us throughout Northern Virginia, to schedule a vacation to check out the new casino in Bristol, which is an easy interstate drive to reach and a great weekend getaway trip. Bristol, famous as the ‘Birthplace of Country Music,’ is a friendly and charming community, nestled in the mountain foothills, surrounded by lots of natural beauty and offering plenty of fun entertainment and outdoor adventure for the entire family.
Just this past week, Portsmouth announced that The Rivers Casino will open a temporary site, on January 15th, 2023. When completed it will be a $300 million-plus facility creating over 1,000 permanent jobs and will be the largest private sector investment in Portsmouth’s history. They are keeping to a promise to include meaningful local minority investment, and have surpassed their goal of $5 million in equity investment from private investors who are minorities or minority-owned businesses, half of which came from Portsmouth. Already, the newly hired employees are active in the community with charitable works including a recent program lending a hand to Portsmouth’s Wesley Community Service Center packaging food, and clothing, and sorting books.
Next week I will write about the progress on the casinos in Norfolk and Danville and importantly, what is being done to increase the Commonwealth’s commitment to protecting the public from problem gambling now that more people will have easier access to gaming. Also, Virginia has a Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-888-532-3500.