HeadWaters Resort & Casino Amends Development in Norfolk, Va.

Posted on: June 15, 2023, 08:12h. 

Last updated on: June 15, 2023, 09:44h.

HeadWaters Resort & Casino is pulling up the rear of the four commercial casinos in Virginia that were authorized in November 2020 through a ballot referendum.

HeadWaters Resort & Casino Norfolk Pamunkey
A rendering of the HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk. The Virginia casino project recently changed how it’s to be built, with an initial casino expected to first open. (Image: Pamunkey Indian Tribe)

Nearly three years after Virginia voters signed off on a ballot referendum that qualified Norfolk as a casino host and the Hampton Roads town moved forward with its resort development partner, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the project only this week submitted its Development Certification Application to the city.

The tribe, which is partnered with billionaire Jon Yarbrough, who made his fortune in tribal gaming, cited COVID-19 delays and legal concerns about where it might open a temporary casino in Norfolk as the leading reasons for the delay.

The tribe informed the city this week that it has since reworked the project. Instead of a temporary casino while the permanent resort and gaming complex is constructed, the Pamunkeys and Yarbrough now plan to construct the $500 million destination in two phases.

Casino First, Resort Later

Through its application, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe revealed that it seeks to first build HeadWaters’ casino space. The 90,000-square-foot facility would occupy about 5.3 acres of what is currently a vacant parking lot adjacent to Norfolk’s Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium.

The casino floor is to span about 45,000 square feet. A 5,000-square-foot lobby and 4,500-square-foot sports bar are to accompany the casino.

More than 1,000 parking spaces are to remain closest to the Elizabeth River, as the phase-one structure would be more inland, closer to Park Avenue. The second phase is to include a 300-room hotel and resort that’s to overlook the river.

The resort details are still being flushed out, but are expected to include numerous amenities, including retail space, several restaurants and bars, and meeting capabilities. HeadWaters previously said the casino will additionally feature a marina where boaters can dock.

Two-Year Timeline

Norfolk was one of five cities that qualified to consider a commercial casino through state legislation passed in 2020. The gaming bill seeks to assist economically struggling cities like Norfolk with the benefits of a casino resort.

Unlike the other qualifying cities that partnered with reputable gaming operators and resort developers, Danville with Caesars Entertainment and Bristol with Hard Rock International, for example, Norfolk city officials partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. Despite having no experience in operating a casino or owning a hotel, the small tribe located 60 miles northwest of the city became the city’s preferred development partner.

In 2020, some locals questioned the city’s unwavering commitment to the tribe. The Pamunkeys calmed some of those concerns by bringing on Yarbrough, whose former company, Video Gaming Technologies, worked with more than 35 tribes in developing their casinos.

Jay Smith, a spokesperson for the HeadWaters Resort & Casino project, said the latest news that the tribe will first only build a casino and not a full resort shouldn’t raise additional alarms. Smith says the tribe will move quickly to build the second phase.

Once we start operating [the casino,] we have a clock. We have to have the rest of the product done within two years,” Smith said.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth is amid a similar development timeline. The casino just across town from Norfolk opened in January without a resort or hotel.