Eight churches in Bristol, Virginia are fighting against a proposed $400 million Hard Rock casino; residents will vote on the referendum this November. The coalition cites studies claiming that casinos prey on gambling addicts and questions whether a casino would draw high numbers of tourists as claimed by supporters of the referendum. Proponents say the casino would bring Bristol $15-$20 million a year in taxes and over 2,000 jobs averaging salaries of $46,500.
“No wealth is produced by a casino. It is redistributing of wealth from one man’s hand into another’s hand,” Fellowship Chapel pastor Scott Price told The Bristol Herald Courier. “It’s pretty much a Goliath versus David battle in that the proponents certainly have multiple resources from which to draw, and they’re using those to get their message out,” Price said.
Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley told The Virginia Star that concerns like Price’s are common when cities announce projects like this, but he thinks many people support the referendum. “There are some that are opposed to it for a variety of reasons, they’re worried about how it might change the character of the city or the potential increases in crime, or just the moral objections.”
According to The Associated Press, the church coalition has bought several billboards in Bristol, including one that reads, “What would Jesus do? He would definitely vote no on the casino referendum.”
Hartley said Hard Rock hasn’t asked for anything from the city or residents — no tax breaks or city spending. “It’s a great boon for our city, and in the process [the developers] are not asking for anything from the locality or the state other than the voters to approve the change in the law. I think a lot of people see that.”
Hartley said tax revenues from the casino will be used to improve city services including emergency response needs.
Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Wise) told The Star that Bristol already sees some tourism, and a Bristol casino and related attractions will draw even more. He pointed to a casino in North Carolina as an example. “You see mostly tourists coming in there visiting, like they do in Vegas and places like that. They just come in there to visit. That’s what we’re wanting, to make this a destination.”
Kilgore added, “Not only can you come here and gamble in the casino, but you can also have the opportunity to watch shows, you can also get out and hike, see the great nature down here in southwest Virginia, go to the birthplace of country music, there’s just all kinds of opportunities.”
Kilgore expects the referendum to pass by a wide margin. “It’s just not a casino, it’s going to bring jobs, going to bring investment,” he said.
Danville, Portsmouth, and Norfolk are also holding casino referendums this year. Casino news site Best Online Casinos predicts a 100 percent chance the Danville referendum will pass, a 75 percent chance the Bristol casino referendum will pass, a 55 percent chance the Portsmouth referendum will pass, and a 50 percent chance the Norfolk referendum will pass.
Although there is no referendum on the ballots this year, Richmond is another potential casino location. Best Online Casinos suggests that city officials are waiting to see how the casino referendums play out in other cities.
“I think [casinos] are important because of the opportunity for economic development, meaning jobs, expanding the tax base,” Kilgore said. “They’re going to be here for a while, you can’t ship them to China, you can’t ship them to Mexico or anything like that.”
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