Anti-Casino Group in Norfolk, Virginia Questions Tribal Partnership

Posted on: September 22, 2020, 01:47h. 

Last updated on: September 22, 2020, 02:37h.

“Informed Norfolk” is seeking to sway local Virginia residents into voting “no” on a ballot referendum question on November 3 that would legalize commercial gambling.

Norfolk casino Pamunkey Indian Tribe
Norfolk City Council hopes citizens vote in favor of allowing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino adjacent to Harbor Park. (Image: The Virginian-Pilot)

Virginia’s casino legislation, signed earlier this year by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), allows cities facing economic hardship to ask their residents if they believe a casino resort should assist in its fiscal recovery.

Residents in Norfolk, Bristol, Richmond, Portsmouth, and Danville will all be asked during the presidential election whether they want to allow a casino in their hometowns. If a simple majority support is received, those five towns can move forward with a gambling development.

Citizens in Norfolk who have been behind the “Informed Norfolk” grassroots coalition filed documents with the Virginia Department of Elections last week that will allow the group to collect donations. The committee plans to spread their opinion that Norfolk partnering with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is a bad deal for the Hampton Roads city.

Concerns Over Pamunkey Partnership

Norfolk City Council has partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on its casino ambitions. The $500 million economic development project, if approved by voters, would be built 13.25 acres of land next to the Harbor Park baseball stadium.

Many Norfolk residents have questioned the city’s unwavering commitment to the Tribe, a small Native American community that has its sovereign reservation some 60 miles northwest of the city. The Pamunkeys have no experience in gambling but have partnered with gaming industry billionaire Jon Yarbrough.

“Our development partner and team have considerable experience in both gaming and financing/developing large-scale, high-end properties,” a tribal statement to explained. “We hire top-tier management and intend to attract talented people to make this a world-class resort and casino.”

This project represents the largest private economic development project in the City’s history and guarantees an annual revenue stream for the city — all with NO local or state tax breaks, public subsidies, or government funding. That’s why Norfolk is so committed to the Tribe,” the statement added. 

In contrast, Danville has partnered with Caesars Entertainment, Bristol with Hard Rock International, and Portsmouth with Rush Street Gaming, companies all with vast experience operating casinos.

“We don’t necessarily have an issue with casinos. We just have an issue with this particular deal,” said Jackie Glass, a Norfolk resident and member of “Informed Norfolk,” to television station WAVY.

On the “Informed Norfolk” Facebook page, the group promotes several op-eds written by Norfolk residents.

“Oddly, Norfolk went with absolute nobodies in terms of hospitality and casino development,” declared Alan L. Smith of Norfolk. “Why wouldn’t the city want to know what real players in casino development would propose?”

“The Pamunkey have never constructed, nor operated, a commercial casino,” added Elizabeth Chupik, also a Norfolk resident. “Norfolk City Council may have blind faith, but the voters should demand better.”

City Tax Benefits

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe says its continued partnership with Norfolk is more than warranted. The tribe told recently that the two sides began discussing a casino more than two years ago.

The Tribe has agreed to pay full market value for the Harbor Park property ($10 million) and expects to pay the city $30 million-$40 million annually in taxes once its casino resort is fully operational.

“All In for Norfolk,” the pro-casino campaign, says the casino will create 2,480 permanent jobs and have an annual economic impact of $850 million. The organization added that because the tribe is part of the regional community, the Pamunkeys will “build a reputation as a compassionate corporate citizen of the City of Norfolk.”