All four Va. casino referendums pass in landslide
Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth voters overwhelmingly approve casino resorts
Voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth overwhelmingly supported local referendums allowing four commercial casinos to be built in their cities, with results declared two hours after polls closed at 7 p.m. According to the Virginia Department of Elections, citizens in the four Virginia cities voted close to two to one in favor of casinos in their cities during the Nov. 3 election.
With all 17 precincts reporting, 68.67% of Danville in-person voters approved the $400 million Caesars Entertainment Inc. casino resort. With all five in-person precincts reporting in Bristol, 71.09% of voters said yes to the Hard Rock-backed casino that is set to be built at the former Bristol Mall property. In Norfolk, with 46 of 49 in-person precincts reporting, 65% of voters voted yes, and in Portsmouth, with all 32 in-person precincts reporting, 66.69% of voters voted in favor of the casino referendum.
“Caesars Entertainment thanks the voters of Danville for their support of the referendum that will bring Caesars Virginia to Danville,” Tom Reeg, CEO of Caesars, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We look forward to fulfilling the trust the voters have placed in us by bringing 1,300 good-paying jobs, tourism dollars and economic development to the city, and we are incredibly excited to begin construction. We would also like to express our deep gratitude to the many respected business owners and citizens who shared the positive impact this resort will bring to the community with their customers, friends and neighbors. We are pleased to be welcomed into the Danville community and look forward to a long, successful future.”
Bristol casino investors (and former coal magnates) Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, along with Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International Inc., said in a statement: “We are incredibly grateful for the strong support we have received from the voters of Bristol, Virginia. Today’s referendum vote to bring a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to Bristol is a vote in favor of more jobs and greater economic opportunity for local residents. This is a win for Bristol and a win for the entire region.”
In Danville, Caesars plans to build the casino and accompanying resort in the Schoolfield neighborhood, a deal that would include a $20 million one-time payment to the city, including $5 million for the property. According to a December 2019 study by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), the Danville casino would generate at least $190 million in direct revenue and $51 million in tax revenue each year by 2025. Danville was the only one of the four cities voting on casinos this year that implemented a competitive bidding process to select a preferred casino operator.
The Bristol investors plan to build a $400 million casino project that, according to JLARC, is expected to create at least 1,070 jobs and generate $130 million in revenue and $35 million in taxes annually. According to the investors themselves, the project will create 2,000 jobs and bring more than 4 million people to the region, generating $16-$21 million in annual tax revenue for the city.
Portsmouth’s $300 million casino resort, proposed by Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming LLC, is expected to generate $167 million in annual revenue, 1,380 permanent jobs and $45 million in annual gaming taxes, the JLARC report says. The company also pledged to solicit 5% of the equity or $5 million, whichever is greater, from local minority-owned businesses or private, accredited investors who are minorities.
“Rush Street Gaming is excited that Portsmouth residents have approved the casino gaming referendum,” the company said in a statement Tuesday night. “Rivers Casino Portsmouth will be a proud community partner, a great workplace and a strong economic engine for Portsmouth and Hampton Roads.”
The $500 million Norfolk project stands apart from the other three in that it was proposed by the federally recognized Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which is working with Tennessee billionaire investor Jon Yarbrough. The tribe could have sought to establish a tribal casino under federal law, but that would have meant more red tape than the commercial option now available under Virginia state law. The Pamunkey tribe’s planned Norfolk casino will create about 1,500 permanent jobs and generate $185 million in annual revenue, with $50 million in annual taxes, according to JLARC projections. The tribe, which estimates 2,000 construction jobs and about 2,500 permanent jobs, also has said it plans to use the casino income to invest in the Norfolk community, its tribal lands in King William County and to fill 90% of the resort’s jobs with area residents, including 50% from minority groups. The tribe also committed $150,000 to help open a grocery store in the St. Paul’s neighborhood.
“We are moved beyond words by the tremendous display of support we’ve received from the Norfolk community,” Robert Gray, chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, said in a statement. “To everyone who advocated on our behalf, shared our message with their friends and neighbors, put up a yard sign, wore a sticker or simply voted yes, we cannot thank you enough. We look forward to working with you to make Norfolk even stronger for decades to come.”
The referendums on this year’s ballots are the final step in a process approved by the General Assembly earlier this year to legalize casinos in five economically challenged cities across the commonwealth. Now, the casinos’ operators must submit gaming license applications to the Virginia Lottery Board, which will oversee the commonwealth’s casinos.
Earlier this year, city councilors voted on the casinos and who would run them, and the Virginia Lottery approved the casinos’ applications. According to state law, developers must invest at least $300 million into each project.
Carolyn Hawley, president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, said in a statement that the referendums’ passage will “present a need for increased problem-gambling support efforts” in the state. “Gambling can be fun,” Hawley added. “However, it can be harmful to some people. We want to prevent such harm from occurring in the first place and help those individuals who may experience problems.”
The General Assembly, in legalizing commercial casinos, created a treatment and support fund for gambling addiction that will be administered by the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. The first $200 million of adjusted gross receipts will be taxed at 6%; between $200 million and $400 million at 7%, and revenue exceeding $400 million at 8%; 0.8% of the tax revenue will be directed to the treatment fund under state law.
Richmond is the fifth economically challenged city that can OK a commercial casino, but Richmond officials decided to wait until 2021 before a casino referendum appears on the ballot. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has expressed interest in building a resort in Richmond’s South Side area.