Where They Stand: Casinos Coming to Four Virginia Cities

Four casino operators are preparing for next steps leading to groundbreaking in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol and Danville — maybe this year.

Applications will open for collection by the Virginia Lottery Board in April.

Voters in all four cities overwhelmingly passed referendums in November 2020 to allow for casinos to be built in Virginia.

A fifth casino in Richmond is on a lagged timeline, with it coming up for a vote in November. The city received at least six proposals by developers and is likely to select one in June.

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing for casinos to operate in Virginia.

Ahead of accepting applications, the Virginia Lottery Board passed emergency casino regulations at its February meeting. The applications are coming from operators that have been approved by the cities.

The emergency regulations include operator license and permit requirements and fees. The regulations have to be approved by the governor in April.

A facility operator license is good for 10 years, with a $15 million issuance fee. All permits and license applications are subject to a $50,000 investigation fee.

The purpose of investigations, which include a background check of financial holdings and other key items, is to make sure the operators and suppliers are “above board,” deputy general counsel Bob Fontaine told the Lottery Board in February.

There is a longer timeline that includes public comment periods for the passage of permanent regulations.

The timeline to open casinos in Virginia hinges on the licensing process. Lottery Board executive director Kevin Hall told the Virginia House Appropriations Committee in November even temporary licensing for casino operations probably wouldn’t begin until April 2022, according to a report by the Herald Courier.

The Hard Rock, operator of the proposed Bristol site, seeks to open a temporary gaming venue while the casino-hotel is under construction.

The estimated timeline by developers for casinos to open in Virginia is late 2022 or in 2023.

Here’s where each casino stands.

Bristol

Hard Rock Casino Bristol

Operator: Seminole Tribe of Florida and Hard Rock subsidiary.

Bristol, which shares a border with Tennessee, will have its casino easily accessible off of Interstate 81.

The $400 million project will be developed on the site of the former Bristol Mall, off Exit 1.

The proposed site includes a convention center and hotel with 350 rooms initially, and as many as 600 to 1,000 rooms, an arcade, live entertainment venue, 90,000 square-foot casino and 50 stores and restaurants.

Hard Rock will build a temporary casino, according to a report by local television station WJHL, while the main casino is completed. It will feature about 600 slot machines, 24 gaming tables, a sportsbook, a restaurant and bars.

Hard Rock is a notable name globally, and operates 31 hotels and 12 casinos. Its 218 cafes feature music memorabilia.

Danville

Caesars Virginia

Operator: Caesars Entertainment.

The $400 million project is slated for the city’s former Dan River Mill site, which has been abandoned since 2006. Danville, close to the North Carolina border, received $15 million from Caesars following the yes vote in November, and another $5 million from the sale of the property, to reinvest in the city.

It is projected to provide more than 1,300 permanent jobs and generate $22 million in gaming tax for the city in its first three years of opening. The city is banking on it contributing $38 million annually once fully operational.

The site is slated to have a hotel with 300 to 500 rooms, a 2,500-seat entertainment venue, 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games, a poker room, and 13 bars and restaurants.

There is a planned William Hill-operated sportsbook for the casino. Caesars Virginia and William Hill were approved by the Lottery Board to open mobile sports betting in the state earlier this year.

Caesars operates 55 resorts.

Norfolk

Elizabeth River at Harbor Park

Operator: Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

The tribe signed an agreement for $10 million with the city to purchase the 13.4-acre space in January for its planned $500 million casino venue along the Elizabeth River near Harbor Park in downtown Norfolk.

Jay Smith, spokesman for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, said it has selected two companies, HKS Architects and Richmond-based Baskervill, to design and construct the project, and plans should be unveiled in the spring. HKS Architects also designed MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

The site will include a 300-room hotel, spa, 2,500-seat entertainment venue, bars and restaurants, and a gaming space featuring 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

There also is a minority outreach and hiring plan, Smith said.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe was one of six developers that submitted proposals for a casino in Richmond. The reservation is close to the city, and the $300 million project would be slated for 24.5 acres in the south end of the city, which the tribe’s development team purchased for $4 million in 2019.

Portsmouth

Rivers Casino

Operator: Rush Street Gaming.

A $300 million casino and entertainment venue is planned for 13.4 acres on the Elizabeth River near the marina in Portsmouth.

The Portsmouth casino’s master plans include a hotel, but to start, development will concentrate on gaming space with a luxury sports wagering lounge, slot machines, table games and dining options. There will be an event center with an outdoor space.

Portsmouth economic director Robert Moore told local television station WAVY that Rush Street’s deal with the city allows for the convention center and hotel to be evaluated in a phased approach, following Norfolk’s approval for a casino-hotel resort as well. The cities are seven miles apart, and there is a ferry that operates between the cities’ waterfronts in season.

Rush Street entered an agreement with the city to purchase the land for $10 million.

The casino is expected to create 1,300 permanent jobs, and Ballard-Yates has been chosen for construction. There is a big outreach push between the city and developers to involve minority- and women-owned businesses in the process of construction and launch.

Rush Street has developed six mixed-use casinos in the U.S. and Canada.

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WRITTEN BY
VirginiaIsForBettors.com
Andi Petrini
Andi Petrini is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for VirginiaIsForBettors.com. She has nearly 20 years of experience in newsrooms in Virginia and North Carolina, and has been a team editor for sports, news and features. She also led the internship program at the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), and was a member of Associated Press Sports Editors.
... Read More
Andi Petrini is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for VirginiaIsForBettors.com. She has nearly 20 years of experience in newsrooms in Virginia and North Carolina, and has been a team editor for sports, news and features. She also led the internship program at the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), and was a member of Associated Press Sports Editors.
... Read More