Pamunkey Indian Tribe Paves Way For Norfolk Casino Approval With $10 Million Property Purchase Agreement

Posted on: September 11, 2019, 09:25h. 

Last updated on: June 3, 2021, 03:21h.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe agreed to pay nearly $10 million for waterfront property in Norfolk, Va. if the city signs off on plans to permit the tribe to develop a site along the Elizabeth River into a hotel and casino.

A tribe wants to open a $700 million casino on the waterfront in Norfolk, Va. But it could take a few years. (Image: Pinterest)

Pamunkey is pitching a $700 million resort project near Harbor Park, a plan that was revealed late last year. At the Norfolk City Council meeting Tuesday, it was noted that, at the high end, a Norfolk gaming property could generate almost $825 million in annual revenue, meaning receipts of $33 million for the city.

The tribe has yet to decide if the venue would be a commercial or tribal casino. If it opts for the latter, the gaming property would not be subject to taxes typically incurred by commercial casinos. In turn, the tribe would agree to pay Norfolk four percent per year on gaming revenue.

The city council is slated to vote on approval of the project at a meeting later this month. But some council members are pushing back on that time frame.

I am very uncomfortable with that time frame,” said Councilwoman Andria McClellan to WAVY TV 10. “When we talk about this going to a tribal option, this becomes Vatican City in the city of Norfolk — wholly owned by the tribe forever and ever.”

Other council members want revenue from the casino to be dedicated to just three uses – education, flood preparations, and sea level rise.

Virginia Gaming Landscape

Historically, Virginia has been one of the more restrictive states when it comes to gaming expansion. But policymakers in the Commonwealth appear to be loosening up on that front. Though controversial, historical racing machines, a horse racing game similar to a slot machine, have found a receptive audience there and are generating tax revenue for the state and cities.

Earlier this year, lawmakers introduced several bills aimed at expanding casino gaming in the Old Dominion State. Some hurdles include lack of bipartisan support for some legislative efforts, and that the Virginia constitution would need to be amended to approve more gaming venues, something that can only happen by way of a voter referendum.

Policymakers are currently studying proposals that would bring casinos to Bristol, Danville, and Portsmouth, as well as the Pamunkey Norfolk plan and a separate proposal by the tribe to open a gaming property in the state capital of Richmond.

Norfolk: A Big Deal

A voter referendum on gaming expansion in Virginia would not happen until 2021 at the earliest, meaning the Pamunkey Tribe could not get a Norfolk casino open before 2022.

Norfolk is home to nearly 243,000 residents and one of the largest Navy bases in the US, making it a potentially alluring site for a casino.

The Pamunkey Tribe is pitching plans for 3,500 to 4,500 slot machines and up to 225 table games at its proposed venue. With just 750 slots and 25 table games, the casino could generate up to $5 million in revenue for Norfolk, according to city manager Doug Smith.