Norfolk Casino Opposition Finds New Avenue to Block Tribal Resort

Opponents to a proposed Norfolk casino have developed a new avenue to potentially block the $700 million tribal gaming project after they failed to obtain the minimum required signatures to force a public referendum vote.

Norfolk casino Virginia gambling

The Norfolk casino decision made by the city’s council is again being challenged by residents. (Image: City of Norfolk)

The “Say No to the Norfolk Casino” group fell 320 signatures short last week of forcing a public vote next November on whether local residents approve of a casino in their town. The Norfolk City Council has signed off on the casino and selling 13.25 acres of city-owned Harbor Park land to the state’s Pamunkey Indian Tribe for nearly $10 million.

The Native American group wants to build a $700 million casino resort. With the complex seemingly cleared to move forward, critics have found a new potential way to get in its way, claiming tribal ownership of the land would bar most taxes.

A petition filed yesterday by five residents called the Citizens for an Informed Norfolk Committee seeks to pass an ordinance that would effectively annul the city council’s casino decision. The motion was submitted to the Norfolk Circuit Court.

We as petitioners are simply using the democratic process,” Nicole Carry, a former City Council member herself, said on behalf of the group.

The committee has 120 days to collect 1,250 signatures and submit them to the city clerk to create a formal ordinance proposal. Then, the City Council – the same group the ordinance seeks to overturn  – would have 30 days to vote on the motion.

If the council defeats the measure, the group would be granted another chance to force a referendum by finding 4,000 people to lend their John Hancock to opposing the tribal casino.

Casino Politics

Critics of the Norfolk casino plan – and there are many – are concerned that the gaming property won’t provide any substantial benefit to the southeast Virginia waterfront city.

If the Pamunkey tribe is allowed to acquire the land, it’s expected to petition the US Department of the Interior (DOI) to take the land into federal trust. That would designate the area as sovereign territory, but the Native American group must prove it has historical ties to the area.

The Pamunkey reservation is located 70 miles northwest of Norfolk. The Norfolk casino proposal calls for a 500-room hotel with as many as 4,000 slot machines and 225 table games.

Tribal vs. Commercial

Virginia Senate Bill 1126 – signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in March – authorizes commercial casinos in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Norfolk. While the legislation legalizes five commercial gaming properties, opponents are concerned that the Pamunkeys could operate the casino as a tribal venue and potentially skirt taxes that would otherwise be levied on a commercial enterprise.

Unlike land bought by someone IN the city, this deal gives the property to a sovereign Native American tribe where our police and local laws have no jurisdiction,” the Say No to the Norfolk Casino group stated. “This development will pay NO property taxes, NO sales and meal taxes, and NO hotel taxes.”

The city would receive four percent of gross gaming revenues, or a minimum of $3 million per year.

Proponents say the casino would employ 3,500, have a direct $787 million yearly economic impact for Norfolk, and bring more than 6.7 million visitors annually to the resort.

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