Another Virginia casino proposal for Bristol is now on the table, but not everyone is happy about it.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) announced Tuesday that it’s partnering with commercial real estate developer Steve Johnson to bring a luxury casino resort to a 350-acre parcel of land in Washington County. The vacant hilly terrain sits adjacent to Johnson’s mixed-used commercial development known as The Pinnacle.
The Pinnacle is located just south of the Tennessee-Virginia border along I-81. EBCI Chief Richard Sneed said the plans, in addition to the casino, call for a hotel, 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue, and indoor waterpark.
I have visited the site along I-81 and I am impressed with its strategic, gateway location that serves a five-state area,” Sneed said. “It is our wish to bring new tax revenue and jobs to Washington County and the Southwest Virginia region in a positive and impactful way.”
The Cherokees own two tribal casinos in their home state – Harrah’s Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River. Caesars Entertainment is responsible for the properties’ operations.
The Pinnacle offers 1.3 million square feet of retail, restaurant, hotel, and office space, and is anchored by Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Belk, and Marquee Cinemas.
Two Virginia businessmen, Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, led the charge to bring commercial gambling to the Old Dominion State. They have partnered with Hard Rock International – owned by the Seminole Tribe in Florida – to propose a $250 million casino resort at the vacant Bristol Mall.
Bristol City Manager Randy Eads lent his support for the project – known as Hard Rock Casino Bristol – in November. “Hard Rock is synonymous with music. With our storied history of music here in Bristol, to have a new partner aligned with the music industry like Hard Rock is, I cannot think of a more exciting time to be in the city of Bristol,” Eads said at the time.
His comments regarding the EBCI pitch weren’t so kind.
“This announcement today could hurt all of Southwest Virginia, and that is something I do not want to happen,” Eads opined. “Southwest Virginia must work together and not against one another in order for true economic development to occur in our region.”
Long Road Ahead
SB1126 was signed into law last March by Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The bill could allow casinos to be built in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Norfolk – the five cities that meet a host of requirements stipulated in the legislation.
However, SB1126 required that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) conduct a review of casino gaming laws in other states, and the economic benefits of allowing casinos in the five aforementioned cities. SB1126 must be reenacted during the 2020 General Assembly session, and no casino license is to be issued before July 1, 2020.
The Virginia Lottery is tasked with issuing the licenses post-July 1. Each of the five towns would then need to hold a local voter referendum to formally sign-off on the projects.