Virginia Residents Show Support for Bristol Casino

Virginia Residents Show Support for Bristol Casino

A proposed casino in southwestern Virginia continues to garner support from a diverse group of community leaders.

A minister and former city mayor were among a group of Bristol, Virginia residents at a meeting earlier this week to show support for a proposed casino in the city. According to the Bristol Herald Courier, 10 of 11 public comment speakers voiced approval for the project to the Bristol City Council.

That included supporters like the Rev. William Reid of New Hope Baptist Church, who touted the possible employment benefits, the Herald Courier reported.

“In my opinion, I think it would be a great thing for us to consider. … We have the ability here to play the lottery, but it comes down to us ultimately being responsible, to be accountable and held accountable for what we do. We have to remember all choices have consequences.”

This public backing for the project, even from groups typically opposed to any form of gambling, underscores the enthusiasm for the new casino in Bristol, which is located along the Tennessee border near the far southwestern corner of Virginia. The City Council already formally endorsed the project and this meeting indicates the general public does so as well.

The casino is still subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly, but with widespread local support, it seems lawmakers in Richmond will be inclined to do so when the legislature takes up the issue in the 2019 session.

It has already taken steps to expand gambling in the commonwealth that up to that point where unprecedented.

Virginia Explores Gambling

After centuries as one of the states most opposed to gambling, attitudes have begun to shift in the Old Dominion.

Starting with pushes to change its poker laws last year, the commonwealth has thawed its colonial-era opposition to gambling. Gov. Ralph Northam and a host of first-time representatives in the House of Delegates took office earlier this year, quickly pushing forward gambling expansion bills in the 2018 legislative session.

That included a law permitting wagers on historical horse racing via on-site video terminals at licensed race tracks. That was a major boon for the shuttered Colonial Downs track, which will use the new gaming option to re-start the venerable facility in the southeastern corner of the commonwealth.

The Virginia government has also shown support for Virginia’s first-ever casino. The Pamunkey Native American tribe recently received final federal recognition after years of legal battles, allowing the group to advance plans for a casino not far from Colonial Downs.

In response, state-level officials have voiced their support for a de facto gaming center in the region between Richmond and Williamsburg centered around Colonial Downs and the Pamunkey casino.

There’s been a similar groundswell in Virginia’s southwestern corner.

Bristol has struggled with depressed economic opportunities in the region that has been further exasperated by an aging and declining population. Eyeing similar rollouts in other parts of the nation, area leaders have jumped at the chance for gambling to help correct the downturn.

Government and gambling officials realize a casino is far from a panacea, but the employment and economic opportunities have proven too strong to pass up for the region.

Organizers behind the casino project estimate the new facility would employ 2,000 people during its first year of operation and another 3,200 within seven years. It’s projected to bring up to four million visitors annually, totaling around $1 billion in economic impact each year.

If approved by the General Assembly, current plans call for a 90,000-square-foot gaming facility including a 25,000 square feet of space designated for a possible sportsbook. The $150 million project would also include a hotel and retails as well as restaurant space.

It could also be the signature facility of its type for the region.

Potential Boon for the Region

Virginia has traditionally been the line of demarcation between North and South. Up to this point, it had maintained that divide in terms of gambling.

While northeastern states like New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania have been among the most aggressive expanders of casino, online and sports gambling, there has been historically been greater opposition further south.

Even that resistance has begun to fade.

West Virginia, which straddles north and south both geographically and culturally, has launched its sports betting market and will soon take bets online. Meanwhile neighboring Kentucky has introduced a major sports betting expansion bill to complement its long-standing horse racing tradition.

States like Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, long dominated by conservative lawmakers opposed to gambling, have not joined their northern counterparts but have slowly acknowledged they’re missing out on a revenue source that has become increasingly common for much of the rest of the country.

A new gaming center along the Virginia-Tennessee line would assuredly attract players from the entire region, and could further accelerate a broader gambling market.

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