Despite an opposition-led effort to get enough signatures on a petition to call for a referendum on the planned casino in Norfolk, it appears residents of southeastern Virginia waterfront city would rather see the city’s plan for opening a resort casino to be operated by Pamunkey Indian Tribe move forward.
Last week, a group of Norfolk anti-casino activists calling themselves ”Say NO to the Norfolk Casino” posted via Facebook that they had fallen short of the 4,000 signatures required to call for the referendum according to Norfolk CBS affiliate WTKR.
The shortage of signatures paves the way for the city to move forward with its plan and seems to point toward the group just not having enough likeminded constituents in the city to help them keep the casino from becoming a reality.
In September, city council members voted in favor of the proposed casino project that would allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to operate a world-class casino near Harbor Park in Norfolk. The planned casino project is just one part of the city’s larger overall plan to help redevelop the Saint Paul’s area near the home of Norfolk’s minor league baseball team, the Norfolk Tides.
Last year, the Tribe negotiated to acquire from the city around 13 acres of land in that area alongside the Elizabeth River. The Tribe’s current project plan according to Norfolk Fox affiliate WVBT includes offering up to 4,500 slot machines, 500 four-diamond hotel rooms, several on-site restaurants, a spa, and an entertainment venue.
Many residents of Norfolk, including those in a group formed to fight against the anti-casino group, see the casino as a chance to help bring more jobs to the community, generate more money for schools and help bring more tourism to the area.
“There are people – in Norfolk and beyond – that are working to block the Norfolk resort and casino,” says the pro-casino group’s official website. “Some have good intentions, and others are driven by their own financial interests.”
That group, called “All in for Norfolk Casino,” also worked to provide residents with information about how to remove their names from the anti-casino petition if they had signed it and changed their minds after learning more about it.
But not everyone in Norfolk was happy with the city’s plan to move forward, and according to WTKR it came down to the wire as to whether the anti-casino group would be successful in their plans to derail the project.
Due to a section of the city charter that allows residents the chance to petition any city council action with registered voter signatures, had the anti-casino group been able to get just 320 more people to sign their petition, the required threshold would have been met per the charter and a judge could then have considered ordering a referendum on the city’s project.
A referendum would have forced the city to open the matter to a popular vote by the entire electorate. Instead, Norfolk’s anti-casino group missed the mark, and it now appears likely that Norfolk’s casino will move ahead as planned. Norfolk has a decent chance of winning the race to become the state's first casino; the town of Bristol, on the border with Tennessee, and other locations are in very preliminary stages.