Lawmakers Approve Virginia Casino Amendments, Set Referendum Date

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All gubernatorial casino bill amendments have been successfully passed by Virginia’s lawmakers with casino projects now on track for five cities in the state.

All Casino Amendments Approved by Virginia Lawmakers

Late last afternoon, Virginia Senate and House lawmakers accepted amendments submitted by Gov. Ralph Northam in a bid to move the legalization of the casino industry in the state forth.

As a result, Bristol and four other cities in Virginia will now have the option to host casino facilities if voters give their OK in a referendum. Senate Bill 36 cleared with a landslide in the Senate facing almost no opposition with 30-9 voting in favor.

Meanwhile, sister House Bill 4 saw push back in the House but not enough to dismantle it, with 66-29 still voting in favor. The upshot is that lawmakers have now officially approved all of the gubernatorial amendments, giving the greenlight to stage one of introducing casino gaming in the state and setting a referendum date for November.

The four cities outside Bristol to potentially host casino gaming are Norfolk, Richmond, Portsmouth and Danville. For each city, the residents would have to decide whether they want to see casinos open doors in their area.

In the meantime, lawmakers agreed that the state’s portion of gaming tax revenue should be directed to fund repairs and school constructions across Virginia. To pass the vote, the members had to attend an emergency session despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers Turn up for the Vote Despite COVID-19

Delegates and Senators turned up in force earing masks and keeping distance. Commenting on the success of the legislation, Senator Todd Pillion drew attention to the wide support for the legislation. Here is what Sen. Pillion had to say in a statement:

With the governor’s amendments agreed to on a broad bipartisan basis, the General Assembly took its final step to pass legislation that allows casino projects in Virginia.

He emphasized that the vote on Wednesday was an opportunity for lawmakers to fulfil one of their key priorities, i.e. find funding for school construction. According to Terry Kilgore, a House Delegate, establishing a casino in Bristol could help jump-start a moribund economy in the region.

Southwest Virginia would be able to move forward, Del. Kilgore estimates, should a casino be set up in the area. City Manager Randy Eads also said that yesterday’s vote was a historic vote, allowing for the economy of Bristol to move forward and offer fiscal relief to struggling local communities.

It would be an opportunity for residents of Bristol to “control their own destiny,” Eads noted cited by the Bristol Herald Courier.

Casino Projects and Business Appetites

Already, prominent operators have shown interest in setting up Bristol’s first casino. Hard Rock International has said that the company would back a project by Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, local business leaders looking to develop a casino and hotel resort on Gate City Highway where the Bristol Mall property now stands.

Both Stacy and McGlothlin were pleased with the outcome. However, their bid is not a sure-deal still. The city will look for other operators apart from Hard Rock and all proposals should be submitted to the city manager by May 8. The City Council will also have to sit and decide whether the operators and local business partners are qualified to develop a project of the scale Bristol needs.

Eads himself admitted that launching the casino project would help Bristol get thousands of jobs and leading to a more diversified economy. The casino and resort would lead to additional types of businesses choosing Bristol, he continued.

Bristol to Divvy up Tax Revenue Across 12 Counties

The Bristol project will have to share tax revenue with 12 counties and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Bristol service district, turning into an important source of revenue for the region.

To effectively manage the proceeds, the city will create a Regional Improvement Commission, which will be tasked with allocating funds based on local needs. Members will be appointed for a two-year term by local governing bodies.

The tax systems in other cities will mostly just cover those cities specifically, although this may yet change as the final wrinkles in legislations are finalized. For example, Northam will leave the state bodies, i.e. House and Senate, to decide how to spend funds for school construction and repair.

The approval of the casino bill is important for another reason as it also allowed to pass a sports betting law which will see another important source of revenue coming to the state. While the details are being thrashed out, lawmakers have agreed to let gray machines to remain operational until July 2021, when the first casino projects would most likely start rolling in.

Last but not least, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe gave its thanks to the individuals who have been pushing for the realization of casino projects in Virginia. The Pamunkey Tribe ins interested in developing casino projects in Richmond and Norfolk, and the tribe is prepared to invest over $350 million in Richmond.

Furthermore, the tribe vowed to keep its profits in Virginia and re-invest in the region, hoping to boost the local economy and help contribute to a vibrant local community.

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