The city of Bristol, Virginia, struck an agreement on Tuesday to name Hard Rock International as its preferred partner on a casino proposal.
For the project to go forward, Bristol voters must pass a referendum in November to approve a casino. Bristol is one of five Virginia cities — along with Richmond, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk — permitted to seek voter approval for a casino after the state legislature approved the idea. That decision came in a climate where the competition for gaming dollars has been heating up; the list of U.S. casinos includes some in neighboring West Virginia.
Virginia’s progress toward having casinos is notable in a state which has no legal forms of gambling outside of horse racing at present. Virginia also has approved legal sports betting, which will be implemented over the next several months and run by the Virginia Lottery.
Hard Rock, along with its partners The United Co. and Par Ventures, was no surprise to be Bristol’s selection as it was the only bid the city received, according to the Bristol Herald Courier. The city and Hard Rock are expected to submit plans next week to the Virginia Lottery Board, according to the report.
The location, though not close to a big city, is crucial because of its proximity to Tennessee. In fact, Bristol is basically one city straddling two states, Virginia and Tennessee. And the area has a big tourist draw already — twice a year NASCAR fans come from all over the region for Cup series races at Bristol Motor Speedway on the Tennessee side of the border.
Bristol mayor Neal Osborne proclaimed his support for the casino in 2019. He told the Herald Courier at the time that the jobs created by a casino project “will pay well and afford people the opportunity to have a fresh start and a new way of life.”
The proposal approved Tuesday includes 300 hotel rooms, 1,500 slots, 100 table games, 50,000 square feet of convention space, plus restaurants, bars and retail space.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Osborne told the paper, “This is historic; it’s a big step.”
Hard Rock International has eight hotel and casino complexes in the U.S., including Atlantic City, New Jersey; Sacramento, California; and Tampa, Florida. The company has more than 30 hotels around the world and about a dozen more hotel projects underway.
On May 18, officials in Danville announced that they had chosen Caesars Entertainment as their preferred partner for a proposed $400 million project with a casino and hotel as a centerpiece.
And the city of Portsmouth for a long time has backed a casino deal with Rush Street Gaming, a deal that its city council also officially approved on Tuesday. The Portsmouth partnership was announced in November 2018 but had to be formally approved by the city’s Economic Development Authority then officially sealed by the council vote.
In Norfolk, the city council voted 7-1 on Tuesday to remain partners with the Pamunkey Tribe for its casino project, according to the Virginian-Pilot. The city council decided that the facility won’t be on tribal land, however, so the city can collect tax revenue. Tuesday’s vote confirmed a proposal that had been on the board since late 2019.
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