Casino is a dicey prospect for some Danvillians
As Danville voters await a November referendum to approve one of the state’s first casinos, some residents are concerned the project would bring crime and traffic to the area.
Danville is one of five localities granted approval to build a casino by state lawmakers earlier this year, although developers require the approval of city councils, Virginia Lottery and local voters.
In May, Caesars Entertainment Inc. was selected by Danville’s council as the city’s approved casino vendor, and in September Caesars signed a legally binding development agreement for the resort casino, guaranteeing a minimum of $5 million in annual tax revenue. Officials hope the $400 million resort casino will revitalize the industrial site at Schoolfield, a formerly independent village where Dan River Inc. textile workers lived and worked when the mill was in operation. It’s estimated the casino will generate at least $30 million in gaming revenue and $4 million in tax revenue annually, as well as produce 1,300 jobs.
But nearby homeowners have mixed feelings about the project. Terry McPeak says he and his neighbors are concerned about traffic, crime and gambling addictions that may come from having a casino in their back yard.
“I support the economic point, but it’s going to bring so much crime,” he says. “People only look at it as we are going to get something new, bright and shiny. It’s going to bring a lot of good money to the schools and infrastructure, but you’ve got to look at the cons.”
McPeak and others prefer the casino to be located in downtown Danville, a commercial area that has already seen some revitalization efforts.
Corrie Teague Bobe, Danville’s director of economic development, said earlier in the year that the city’s hope is for both Schoolfield — considered the more challenging redevelopment project — and the White Mill downtown to be developed by private stakeholders, aided by an influx of casino dollars.
The city is awaiting the results of a traffic study funded by Caesars, which has agreed to shoulder “all reasonable” road expenses, and the city commissioned a second study of crime and emergency calls by New Orleans-based consulting firm Convergence Strategy Group. Danville officials have done their homework too, talking to other communities with casinos.
“We spoke to mayors and police chiefs about the impact of crime related to the casino[s] in their communities,” says Ken Larking, Danville’s city manager. “Their response was that any additional crime was attributed to more people visiting their communities and would likely be similar to any other large-scale development. All said, the benefits of investments, jobs and new tax revenue greatly outweighed any negative consequences.”