Bristol, Virginia Takes Next Step Towards a Hard Rock Casino

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The Bristol City Council unanimously approved naming HR Bristol LLC the city’s preferred gambling operator. The Friday city council decision confirms what voters asked for in a November 2020 referendum – a Hard Rock Casino to be built in Bristol. The decision wasn’t a a surprise, and the council didn’t bother discussing the motion before voting.

“The City Council had previously pre-certified the project operator earlier this year (in May). This additional step, following approval of the project in a local referendum by Bristol, Virginia voters in this year’s November General Election, was required by state statute,” project spokesman Andy Poarch told The Virginia Star.

Poarch said developers are expecting the Virginia Lottery to develop gaming regulations early in 2021. Then, the developers will apply for licensing, which could take up to a year for the Lottery to approve. After that, developers plan to open gambling — but the full resort isn’t expected to open until the end of 2022.

“As we already have the existing infrastructure for the site (at the former Bristol Mall), we hope to open a temporary casino at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can start bringing new jobs to Bristol and the region and begin generating additional state and local tax revenue,” Poarch said.  “We hope to be in a position to open the full resort and casino by the end of 2022.”

The Bristol casino referendum won decisively, with 71.14 percent or 5,490 votes in favor of the casino out of 7,717 total, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. Although the other casino referendums across Virginia also passed, none of those referendums passed by more than 69 percent.

According to VPAP data, the Betting on Bristol PAC spent $1,021,274 in 2020 — about $186.02 per yes vote. As first reported by The Herald Courier, the other casino referendum that saw more than $500,000 in spending in favor of the casino was in Norfolk. The Yes Norfolk Referendum Committee spent $1,072,641. That referendum saw 57,741 yes votes — about $18.58 per yes vote.

A coalition of ten Bristol churches opposed the casino, citing gambling addiction and questioning economic arguments for the casino.

“Bristol is not an entertainment Mecca. While a beautiful area, it does not have multiple options for out of town guests. The majority of customers for regional casinos drive less than 70 miles, travel in their own cars and return to sleep in their own beds,” states nobristolcasino.org.

In October, Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley told The Star that having a casino would be a clear win for the city.

“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.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Hard Rock Casino” by Hard Rock Casino Biloxi.

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