Norfolk Casino Ballot Referendum Campaign Underway, City and Tribe ‘All-In’

Posted on: September 1, 2020, 01:29h. 

Last updated on: September 2, 2020, 09:30h.

Supporters of bringing Norfolk a casino resort began their ballot referendum campaign this week, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe joined by Mayor Kenneth Alexander in kicking off the initiative.

Norfolk casino Pamunkey Tribe Virginia
Pamunkey Indian Tribe Chair Robert Gray this week touted substantial economic benefits in bringing a casino to Norfolk. (Image: All-In for Norfolk)

The Pamunkey Indians are ready to invest $500 million in building a casino property on 13.4 acres of land just east of the Harbor Park baseball stadium.

Located on the banks of the Elizabeth River, the development plans include a 300-room hotel, spa, entertainment space, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants and bars, and casino with slot machines, table games, and a sportsbook.

But it can only come to reality with the backing of local voters on November 3. A simple majority support is needed for the ballot referendum to pass. Along with Alexander, Virginia Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) was at the ballot campaign kickoff yesterday.

I’ve been a supporter of this project since it was first presented to me two years ago,” Jones declared. “I’m proud to be ‘All-In’ on a project that will bring not just jobs — but career opportunities — to this community.”

Local casino referendums will also be held on November 3 in Danville, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Richmond.

Campaign Touts Economic Benefits

“All-In for Norfolk Casino” is leading the campaign to rile up support for allowing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to proceed with its casino ambitions. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation during the 2020 General Assembly session that authorized casino resorts in five economically distressed cities, so long as voters approve of the plan through a local ballot referendum.

With just over two months to go before Norfolk voters decide the casino’s fate, All-In for Norfolk will inundate voters with commercial and radio spots, billboards, yard signs, and mailings.

The campaign claims the casino will generate between $43.79 million and $51.18 million annually for area public schools, and approximately $25 million annually for the City of Norfolk.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, if the referendum passes, will pay the city $10 million for the vacant land next to Harbor Park, and city officials say that money will go directly towards the renovation of Booker T. Washington and Maury high schools.

Tribal Backer

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has claimed ancestral ties to Norfolk and had been considering a ploy to build a tribal casino operation in the city. Since a Native American casino wouldn’t be held to the same tax obligations as a commercial enterprise, city leaders have made the tribe its preferred gaming partner.

The city will only sell the Harbor Park land to the tribe if it agrees to operate the casino as a commercial business that is subject to not only casino taxes, but also lodging, restaurant, sales, and property taxes.

The Pamunkey Tribe has no experience in operating a commercial casino. It’s also a small community, its tribal membership numbering just 200. Seeing an opportunity, Tennessee billionaire Jon Yarbrough, who made his fortune manufacturing and selling gaming machines, is backing the tribe’s casino plans in Norfolk.

The tribe has been able to secure adequate funding due to its relationship with Yarbrough. Forbes estimates the Video Gaming Technologies founder to have a net worth of $2.6 billion.