Norfolk, Virginia City Council Signs Off on Pamunkey Indian Tribe $700 Million Casino Resort Plan

Posted on: September 25, 2019, 09:20h. 

Last updated on: September 25, 2019, 10:51h.

By a vote of seven to one, the Norfolk, Va. city council on Tuesday approved a plan by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a $700 million integrated resort on that city’s waterfront.

The Norfolk, Va. city council approved a $700 million Pamunkey Indian Tribe casino plan. (Image: Cox)

Earlier this month, the tribe reached an agreement with the city to pay approximately $10 million for a parcel of land along the Elizabeth River so that it could eventually construct a gaming property in the Harbor Park area of Norfolk.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander lauded the job-creating capabilities of the project, which will be one of the largest in the city’s history, and that local taxpayers will not be used as a funding source for the Pamunkey casino.

The Tribe will be responsible for all costs associated with the construction of the project, including infrastructure, flood mitigation, parking, and utility improvements,” said Alexander in a statement released Tuesday night. “After the sale of land closes, the Tribe will pay the City $125,000 per year until the casino opens. After the casino opens, the Tribe will pay the City 4% of net gaming revenues with a minimum payment of $3 million per year.”

The mayor believes the project will create 4,000 to 5,000 construction jobs and 3,500 permanent roles, with an annual payroll of nearly $141 million.

Solid Pitch, But Some Have Concerns

Pamunkey revealed plans for the integrated resort effort late last year, telling Norfolk lawmakers that once it fully ramps up, it could generate $825 million in annual revenue, of which $33 million would go to the city. The tribe is still in the process of deciding whether the gaming property will be designated as a traditional commercial venue or as a tribal casino.

Pamunkey must make an application to the US Department of the Interior to operate a tribal casino, and in order for the tribe to gain Class 3 gaming certification (a provision allowing for table games) under Virginia law, an agreement between the state and the tribe must be ratified.

While the endeavor could be an economic boon for the Hampton Roads region, Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan, the lone dissenter in Tuesday’s vote, previously expressed concern that the council was rushing a decision on the casino deal. McClellan, a Democrat, moved to continue the vote, essentially asking to have it postponed to a later date, but that effort was defeated seven to one.

“Well folks, I tried. After almost 50 emails, 120 FB comments and a survey of almost 1000 people…and more than half of the speakers at tonight’s Council meeting…I made the case to my Council colleagues that the overwhelming majority of people wanted us to WAIT on the #casino vote to get more info and public input,” she said in a Tuesday Facebook post.

Specs And Debate

Norfolk is requiring that the Pamunkey property have at least 700 slot machines, 25 table games and a hotel with a minimum of 150 rooms. But some estimates indicate the lodging area could be significantly larger, with up to 500 rooms.

The tribe, which has previously compared its yet-to-be-constructed casino to MGM National Harbor in Maryland, believes it can attract 6.7 million visits per year. However, critics of the project say just 1 million will come from outside of Virginia, and 1.4 million will be from the Hampton Roads region.

That means the Pamunkey venue will be heavily reliant on visitors from Northern Virginia, Richmond, and, possibly Washington, DC, as revenue drivers.