Virginia Voters in Four Cities Deciding on Casino Referendums

Posted on: November 3, 2020, 09:50h. 

Last updated on: November 3, 2020, 12:21h.

Virginia voters in four cities are deciding on local referendums today that would authorize a commercial casino in their hometowns.

Virginia casino election referendum
Virginia is for lovers, but today we’ll find out if it’s also for casinos. (Image: Wikimedia)

Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond all qualified to hold a local ballot referendum asking constituents whether they want to use a casino to provide an economic jolt to their communities. The gaming question came as a result of legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) earlier this year.

Richmond opted to delay its casino referendum. But voters in the other four cities are picking who should lead the country for the next four years, as well as if a casino makes sense in their backyards.

If a simple majority backs the question, local officials can move forward with bringing commercial gambling to their city. Should at least one local referendum pass, Virginia will become the 26th commercial gaming state in the US.

Committees Rest

Virginia lawmakers and Northam are giving voters the power to decide the merits of casinos and economic prosperity.

All four cities qualified for a casino because they experienced an unemployment rate of at least five percent in 2018, a poverty rate of at least 20 percent in 2017, and a population decrease of at least 20 percent from 1990 to 2016.

There was much debate in the lead-up to today in discussing whether casinos actually do benefit area economies. Numerous businesses across the Commonwealth lent their support, many saying casinos will attract new visitors and put their cities on the map for leisure travel.

The opposition was predominantly led by religious groups. In Bristol, churches paid for billboards that promoted their moral apprehensions to gambling.

“What Would Jesus Do?” read one billboard. Another: “Don’t Think A Casino Is Going To Be Your Savior! It Will Turn Out To Be Your Satan!”

The Proposals

Here’s a breakdown of the projects that would be cleared in each city if that city’s local referendum is approved:

Bristol: The city has partnered with Hard Rock International. The casino company owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida plans to spend $400 million on transforming the Bristol Mall into a casino resort.

Norfolk: The city has teamed with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for a $500 million casino resort on 13.25 acres of vacant land next to the Harbor Park baseball stadium.

Danville: Danville has approved Caesars Entertainment’s bid to invest $400 million to repurpose the Dan River textile complex into a casino and entertainment destination.

Portsmouth: Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming is the preferred casino operator for a $300 million resort. The property is earmarked for vacant land located at Victory and Cavalier boulevards off I-264.

If all four referendums pass and the casinos come to the realization, the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission projects the gaming venues to generate about $260 million annually in state gaming taxes.

Each casino is expected to employ at least 1,000 people, with a median average wage of $33,000 per year.