Virginia Voters Legalize Four Casinos, Becomes 26th Commercial Gaming State

Posted on: November 4, 2020, 12:36h. 

Last updated on: November 4, 2020, 01:01h.

Virginia voters in four cities on have passed local ballot referendums to allow one commercial casino each in their towns.

Virginia casino election referendum ballot
Hundreds wait in line to vote on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in Fairfax, Va. Virginia voters in four cities backed referendums that will bring a commercial casino to their towns. (Image: AP)

Voters in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, and Norfolk all supported bringing a casino to their city in the hopes of providing an economic spark.

City — Yes Vote

  • Bristol — 71 percent
  • Danville — 69 percent
  • Portsmouth — 67 percent
  • Norfolk — 65 percent

Richmond, the fifth and only remaining city that qualified to hold a local ballot referendum on casino gambling, is expected to vote on such a measure in 2021.

Virginia allowed cities that met a host of qualifying criteria and displaying economic struggles to hold ballot referendums to decide on approving a casino. To qualify, a city must have 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.

Projects Moving Forward

Developers behind each of the four casino undertakings were quick to celebrate the four local ballot referendum results.

In Norfolk, the city has partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for a $500 million casino resort, with a 300-room hotel, entertainment venue, spa, pool, and multiple restaurants.

The winning bidder in Portsmouth was Rush Street Gaming. The Chicago-based gaming and hospitality firm will build a $300 million resort with a hotel, concert venue, restaurants, and conference center.

Danville and Caesars Entertainment will proceed with a $400 million undertaking to repurpose the crumbling Dan River textile complex into a casino destination. “We look forward to fulfilling the trust the voters have placed in us by bringing 1,300 good-paying jobs, tourism dollars, and economic development to the city, and we are incredibly excited to begin construction,” read a Caesars’ statement.

Finally, in Bristol, Hard Rock International will spend $400 million to place a casino and entertainment facility in the vacant Bristol Mall.

Religious Opposition

The failed resistance campaign to each of the four casino referendums was predominantly led by churches. Faith leaders expressed their opposition the day after the election results.

“My heart goes out,” Abingdon Church of Christ Minister Bill Haywood told News 5. “I believe the promoters probably have good intentions. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s [gambling] going to hurt people. This is what the statistics show. This is what’s happened over and over again.”

Churches across the Commonwealth urged voters to reject gambling as an economic savior. But the majority of people turned against that message and made Virginia the 26th state in the country to legalize commercial casinos.