Retail Casinos in Virginia
There are plans for as many as five retail casinos in Virginia. The bill HB4 legalized casino gambling in the state for five cities that have met specific criteria:
- The poverty rate in the city is 20% or higher.
- Unemployment is 4% higher or more than the state’s overall rate.
- The population in the city has decreased by 20% or more in the past year.
- More than 40% of city real estate is tax-exempt.
Clearly, the introduction of a casino venue is meant to spearhead the revitalization of the cities that qualify. The influx of tourism dollars and jobs could help to turn around the lives of citizens who could use a win. Below is a rundown of where everything stands in each city with regard to its development and partnership plans.
Temporary casino open: Bristol Casino
The Bristol casino is open as of July 8, 2022, albeit in a temporary location. Bristol Casino — Future Home of Hard Rock — features 2,700 slot machines and 100 table games. Guests can pick from five restaurants, four bars and a “Rock Spa.” Bristol Casino is open 24/7.
Bristol’s development team has been working on a plan to open a casino in town since 2018. One of the biggest coups for the Bristol casino team was the securing of Hard Rock International as a strategic partner. The rock ‘n roll restaurant and casino brand shook hands with Bristol, a city along the Tennessee border, in late 2019. Bristol is known for its legendary NASCAR track.
Under construction: Norfolk Casino
The expected opening date for the HeadWaters Resort & Casino will be in 2024. HeadWaters will be a $500 million casino-hotel built along the Elizabeth River near Harbor Park.
The casino will feature 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games, a hotel with 300 rooms, a spa and a rooftop pool and entertainment area and several restaurants, The 13.4-acre site comes as the result of Norfolk’s partnership with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the only federally recognized tribe in Virginia to have a shot at opening a casino.
The coastal city of Norfolk is the second-largest in Virginia and is no more than 20 minutes away from the largest (Virginia Beach) and third-largest (Chesapeake) cities in the state.
Like Bristol, Danville is a border town in Virginia that figures to capitalize on out-of-state traffic. The city, which sits across from North Carolina, would seem to be a perfect place to attract both Virginians and North Carolinians who don’t want to make the drive to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in western North Carolina.
City planners are obviously shooting for the big time. There’s no other reason for the town’s partnership with Caesars Entertainment, which was finalized in June 2020. Approval from the Virginia Lottery followed soon afterward, and the Danville City Council has also lent its seal of approval to the deal.
The council has also released some early concepts for the property’s design. The current plan calls for a redevelopment of the Dan Mills industrial complex in the Schoolfield neighborhood, which would give Caesars 85 acres to use.
The new facility is expected to house more than 1,000 slot machines, 75 table games, a 16-table poker room, and a sportsbook. It will also be a full-service resort with a performance venue, convention center, restaurants, and retail shops.
With the passage of the vote, the casino could begin applying for an operator license in April 2021. Caesars officials estimate that Caesars Danville would open in 2023 under the current timeframe.
Rivers Casino Portsmouth
Construction of the casino in Portsmouth is on schedule. The $300 million resort is set to open in early 2023.
The facility will be on a 50-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Victory and Cavalier Boulevards, near I-264. When it opens, the casino will feature a hotel, restaurants, an event center and BetRivers Sportsbook.
Rivers Casino Portsmouth will likely generate nearly $16 million in tax revenue for the city as well as create 1,300 permanent jobs. The casino is hosting multiple job fairs this summer and fall.
Richmond is both the fourth-largest city in Virginia and its capital, so its inclusion as one of the five potential casino locations is not difficult to understand.
However, Richmond is separating itself from the other four towns in terms of its timeline for bringing casino gambling to Virginia. While the other four cities placed the referendum on the 2020 ballot (and got their way), Richmond elected to delay the city’s voter decision until 2021.
Naturally, there remain a great deal of regulatory and logistical hurdles to overcome.
The $650 million Bally’s proposal for a Richmond casino and Live! Casino & Hotel proposal by The Cordish Cos. were the last two cut.
Bally’s Corporation vowed to “provide the opportunity for all Richmond residents to purchase an equity interest in, and become partial owners of” the property, but offered no further details.
David Walton, a Richmond-based entrepreneur who founded the Black Pages of America had been enlisted to popularize and implement the project according to a press release.
In April, city officials narrowed are down to three casino resort proposals after eliminating Wind Creek Hospitality, a gaming company owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Golden Nugget and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in late March.
The proposals still viable, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, were:
- A $517 million project by Urban One, which owns the parent company of Colonial Downs racetrack. If approved, it would be the only majority black-owned casino in the country.
- A $600 million casino resort pitched by Maryland-based gambling outfit, The Cordish Companies. Former Virginia Tech and NFL star Bruce Smith is an investor.
- A $650 million project by Bally’s Corp. Investors include former NFL players Willie Lanier and Darrell Green.
History of gambling in Virginia
If you had to describe Virginia’s past forays into gambling with a single word, that word would likely be “timid.” Like most states in the cultural South (except Mississippi), Virginia has an uneasy relationship with games of chance and has only inched its way into the pool one toe at a time.
The first bit of legal gambling to debut in Old Dominion was charitable gambling, which appeared on the scene in 1973. Bingo halls and charity poker became acceptable and quite popular, with annual tax revenues from charitable gambling stretching into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The second form of gambling to find legality in Virginia was a common choice for states that would like to offer mild doses to their populations. The state lottery debuted in the Commonwealth in 1988. Subsequently, it grew into an institution in the state, with 5,000 retail locations and more than half-a-billion dollars in funding for Virginia schools each year.
Horse racing came to Virginia the year after the lottery’s launch. However, despite its status as a $100 million industry, horse tracks have struggled to stay open in the state. Between 2014 and 2019, the only live racing in Virginia came from the modest harness racing at Shenandoah Downs.
However, Virginia lawmakers introduced the practice of historical horse racing to the state in 2018. As a result, Virginians gained the ability to play on slot machine-like devices and wager on the outcomes of random horse races from the past.
The result has been a boon for the Virginia horse racing industry. In its first year of operation, HHR generated more than $1 billion in wagers for authorized locations in the state.
The legalization of HHR seemed to be part of a more significant trend in the Virginia General Assembly in which lawmakers grew decidedly more favorable to legalizing gambling. In 2016, Virginia became the very first state in the country to formally recognize daily fantasy sports play as a legal game for its citizens.
So, although the idea of Virginia becoming a full-fledged gambling location seems a bit odd, the truth is that its part of a consistent shift in attitudes. The launch of online sports betting in the state and the affirmative votes on the casino referendums give a clear picture of where Virginians stand on the issue.
The bottom line is that gamblers in Virginia should feel quite optimistic. The days of Virginia dangling its feet in the waters of gambling appear to be ending.
Responsible gambling in Virginia
One of the unfortunate realities of gambling is that a certain percentage of its fans will take things too far. Problem gambling sufferers can quickly find themselves in a downward spiral and lose far too much on an activity that, ideally, is fun.
For that reason, Virginia has resources set aside to help problem gamblers get into recovery. The best resource for Virginians in dire straits is contacting the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-888-532-3500. The call is toll-free and confidential and can connect you with experienced professionals who can guide you.
The law that changed the Virginia Lottery’s scope to include sports betting also mandated the establishment of the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund, administered by the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. According to the law, the fund exists “to provide counseling to compulsive gamblers, implement problem gambling treatment and prevention programs, and provide grants to organizations that assist problem gamblers.”
In truth, responsible gambling resources will have to beef up as more gambling options become active in the state. The state lottery does maintain a self-exclusion list. Still, it will need to be more prominent and comprehensive when online sportsbooks launch and then again when casino properties open their doors.
Problem gambling’s telltale sign is when you want to stop gambling but cannot do so. If you are suffering from this symptom, do not wait another moment to act. Each day you suffer from problem gambling is a day lost, along with whatever vital funds you threw away.
Don’t wait for another second; get help.