Published: April 28, 2022 at 08:13 am.
Last updated on: April 28, 2022, 08:13 AM.
Hard Rock Bristol received the first commercial casino license to be issued in Virginia.
Just a decade ago, it seemed implausible for Virginia to move to legalize commercial casinos. The state has long opposed most forms of gambling – the main exception being state-run lotteries.
That changed in 2020 when the Virginia General Assembly approved and then-Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed House Bill 4 into law. The law allowed commercial casinos in economically struggling cities that met certain qualification criteria.
The legalization process was initially led by Virginia businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacey. The Coal Emperors sought permission from the state to bring a casino to their hometown of Bristol in order to revitalize the local economy, and stimulate new life in the closed Bristol Mall.
The businessmen eventually beat state representatives and Northam. In addition, the bill gave one casino opportunity each to Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Danville. Those cities also met the qualifying criteria, such as experiencing an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018, a poverty rate of at least 20% in 2017, and a population decline of at least 20% from 1990 to 2016.
HB 4 requires that the casino be formally approved only for the five eligible cities via a local ballot referendum showing support among city residents for the gaming initiative. Only Richmond voters turned down their casino opportunity.
Casino projects are progressing in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. And Bristol is the first to receive the blessing of the Virginia Lottery Board, which oversees the expanded games.
Since approved by the 2020 General Assembly, the Board’s priority for Commonwealth casino games is that they be conducted fairly and in a responsible manner,” Virginia Lottery Board Chairman Farhan Hamid said in issuing Hard Rock Bristol Gambling License. “Today’s approval reflects our confidence in careful and conscientious review. conducted by Virginia Lottery employees.”
Farhan added that board officials will be on site at the casino site over the next few months to monitor the receipt of gaming equipment, as well as to monitor internal controls to ensure full compliance with the new state industry.
Temporary casino details
Hard Rock Bristol is a $300 million project that involves converting a portion of Bristol Mall into a casino resort. In addition, the project includes the construction of a hotel tower.
While the final project is not expected until sometime in 2025, Hard Rock Bristol plans to open a temporary casino with 900 slots, 20 table games and a sportsbook in July. The 30,000-square-foot space will occupy part of the former mall, which has been vacant since 2017. The pop-up casino will replace the Belk Department Store.
As for the permanent resort, the property scheme calls for a casino with 2,700 slots and 100 table games, a sportsbook, a 750-room hotel, seven restaurants and four bars. Also included is an on-site concert venue that seats 3,200 and an outdoor entertainment venue built to accommodate 20,000 people.
The resort destination also plans to incorporate a spa, retail stores, a Hard Rock Café, and 50,000 square feet of conference space.