Former classmates want to turn Bristol Mall into a casino resort
The vacant shopping mall’s electronic sign blares a new message: “We’re betting on Bristol!”
Two former high school classmates hope to transform the former Bristol Mall into a casino resort. Jim McGlothlin, CEO of The United Co., and Clyde Stacy, the president of Par Ventures LLC, see their $150 million privately financed venture as an economic boost for their home on the Tennessee line. Bristol has been hit hard by the regional decline of the coal industry and, more recently, the loss of Bristol Compressors, which announced in July it was closing its local plant, eliminating 468 jobs.
McGlothlin believes the casino is “a mix of great opportunity and fun,” but would still preserve a healthy, law-abiding atmosphere.
McGlothlin and Stacy’s bet may be risky. Long resistant to casino gambling, Virginia’s General Assembly must first legalize it. And McGlothlin wants that to happen in the 2019 session before Virginia’s neighboring states license casinos. McGlothlin’s team expects a casino bill to be introduced in the 2019 session and has been in conversations with legislators about sponsoring legislation.
Virginia’s position on gambling shifted this year. State lawmakers legalized historical horse racing, wagering in which players places bet on past races using devices similar to slot machines.
“That was done to help the equestrian groups. Surely you would want to help a struggling city,” McGlothlin says.
Republican state Sen. Bill Carrico, whose district includes Bristol, opposed the horse-betting measure.
“I’m not committed one way or another to the casino,” Carrico says. “Even if legislation goes through, Bristol people should have the final say through a public referendum.”
Plans call for a 100,000-square-foot casino, a hotel, restaurants, shops, conference center, go-kart track, water park and live entertainment venue. A McGlothlin-commissioned economic study expects the development to create 2,000 jobs and $567 million in local and regional economic impact.
“If we can’t attract high-tech jobs, then we have to look at what is being proposed,” Vice Mayor Kevin Wingard says. “I believe this project will put Bristol and Southwest Virginia on the map and turn things around.”
For critics, the casino is seen as a bad bet that could lead to gambling addiction, crime and suicide.
“You’re doing this on the backs of people who will lose $30,000 and $40,000 they don’t have,” says the Rev. Dewey Williams of Belle Meadows Baptist Church in Bristol.