(WJHL)-Recent electoral victories for Democrats in Virginia and Kentucky could be a game-changer for long-standing efforts to legalize casino gambling.
Last year, developers proposed a project that would transform the vacant Bristol Mall into a resort and casino.
“It’s an economically distressed area and the potential for tax revenue is enormous,” said Bristol, Virginia Mayor Neal Osborne.
Developers may have more luck this year after Virginia’s General Assembly opted to slow down and study the impacts of casino gambling last session.
That’s because, for the first time in more than two decades, Virginia has a Democratic governor and the party holds majorities in both the House and the Senate.
“We expect that this will be passed this year,” said Sen.-elect Todd Pillion (R-Bristol). “Democrats have traditionally supported gaming in Virginia without a local referendum. That could be something we see again this session.”
Last year, the Bristol casino proposal prompted a widespread backlash from the religious community.
Despite this, Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Bristol) and Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Bristol) spearheaded a bill that would’ve limited casinos to five “economically distressed areas” and required each project win local approval.
When asked if he would support a bill that didn’t include a local referendum, Pillion said, “It would get consideration. My preference would be for a local referendum and I would potentially try to amend that piece of legislation.”
Casino supporters are asking Virginia lawmakers to act with urgency, as developers in Jenkins, Kentucky push for a project of their own.
“We have to think about how we live past coal, how do we bring those jobs in and that’s exactly what our facility does,” said investor and business partner Kevin Mullins. “We’re looking at a $280 million dollar project.”
Raven Rock Resort and Casino would sit on top of a mountain, just across the Virginia state line. That’s creating a race for out-of-state tax revenue.
“You have lobbyists from other states coming in and they don’t want to see an expanded gaming facility in Kentucky understanding that $500 million are going across our borders to other states that surround us,” Mullins said.
Unlike past administrations in Kentucky, Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has made expanded gaming a part of his platform.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Beshear said:
“Kentucky and our cities like Jenkins cannot afford to continue to lose revenue to neighboring states who pay for their public pensions, education and infrastructure through casinos and expanded gaming. Gov.-elect Beshear is working hard to ensure a smooth transition of state government and preparing to address the issues facing Kentuckians, like expanded gaming, upon being sworn in as governor Dec. 10.”