Virginia’s Norfolk Casino Bid Intensifies amid Dispute for Rights

Virginia is caught in the midst of a gambling fever, with legislators and residents giving their unequivocal approval of the sports betting and brick-and-mortar casino industries.

First Dig Still Years Away for Virginia Casinos

November has been a month of developments for the state, with the Virginia Lottery, receiving no fewer than 25 applications for 12 available sports betting spots and voters in four Old Dominion cities approving the development of multimillion-dollar casinos in a bid to secure tax revenue, drive job creation, and boost the local economy.

Four cities’ residents went to the ballots to not only back a candidate in the 46th Presidential election but to also give their ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ in the matter of building a casino complex. Voters from Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk gave their overwhelming support for the project, although some parties are still fighting back.

All four cities have been given green light to consider the development of a casino project earlier this year, with the General Assembly voting in favor, amid a broader move to legalize marijuana and brick-and-mortar casinos. Originally, there were five cities that were able to vote on whether they should progress with a casino, but Richmond, the fifth city, decided to wait another year before calling voters to the ballots.

The Importance of Building a Casino

A fairly populous state with nearly 9 million residents, Virginia is one of ten states in the United States which doesn’t have casinos. This forces most residents who want to play make a trek to neighboring states, and more importantly, deprives the state from precious tax dollar.

In the meantime, despite some strife and opposition against proposed casino projects, everyone seems keen on seeing the casinos mushroom across the state. The Cordish Cos., though, are backing a campaign against the current configuration of allocating development rights in Norfolk which would allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to go ahead with a proposed project of its own.

Cordish Cos. consider themselves as having the legal right to do so as part of previously-negotiated agreement. In other words, whenever Virginia legalizes brick-and-mortar casinos, it should be the Cordish Cos. who should have a first crack at any project in Norfolk.

Cordish Cos. is so convinced in its legal right to develop the Norfolk project that is threatening to block any deal that doesn’t select it as a developer, and sue the city.

In the meantime, a potential casino in Norfolk may drive between $34 million and $44 million to the state every year. The numbers are still not pinpointed down to a T, but according to a Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study, if all five casinos are built, and casinos coexist sustainably, they should drive an estimated $260 million in tax revenue and help alleviate deficits and restore the economy in the wake of the covid-19 outbreak.

Great Step Forward for the City

With all parties seemingly determined to press on with their bid, Norfolk will stand to benefit from a casino, says Kurt Krause from the Visit Norfolk tourism group.

Yet, there has been an opposition from Citizens for an Informed Norfolk, who argued that the proposed casino would target impoverished regions and bring further economic malaise to those areas as opposed to the advertised upsurge in jobs and revenue developers and officials claim.

Supporters of the project have cited 2,500 full-time jobs and Pamunkey Indian tribe Chief Robert Gray has argued that the tribe has been a constant social benefactor to the neighborhood where the mulled casino should arrive.

Other Cities Line up for Casinos

Each city in Virginia is currently sporting a bid for its own casino. Rush Street Gaming is bidding for a location in Portsmouth promising to create 1,300 jobs and add around $16 million to the city’s tax revenue.

Over in Danville, Caesars Entertainment has a $400 million project queued-up with the property featuring 300-room-hotel, a conference center, and other amenities. Danville’s officials have approached the subject with consideration, creating easy-to-read infographic, displaying the pros and cons.

 On the plus side, Danville residents could expect benefits such as better tax revenue and additional jobs, but there was also the social cost to factor, potential of an increased crime rate and suicide rate going up.

The location in Bristol will fall under Hard Rock International which will redevelop the defunct sight of the Bristol Mall. The venue is located bang next to the Tennessee border, proving an important beacon for gaming enthusiasts.

How Are the Projects Realized?

Moving forward, each city will have 30 days to select a developer and submit its bid to the state agency in charge of processing initial applications, commented Virginia Lottery spokesperson John Hagerty. Once all bids have been received, the agency will prepare a draft and submit it to the Lottery by February 2021.

What will follow is a reviewing process that will bear the stamp of approval of Governor Ralph Northam. Should all go according to plan, Virginia should have green lighted a procedure for the construction of a casino by April next year.

Yet, once this is sorted, the bidding developer will have to undergo strict due diligence checks before a final go-ahead can be granted and construction can begin in earnest. The process, however, could take up to a year.

Casino constructions in Virginia may not begin until late 2022 or early 2023, Hagerty cautioned enthusiasts. A lot can change between now and then.

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