Bristol, Va. residents react to passage of casino gaming legislation

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BRSITOL, Va. (WJHL) – The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate officially approved Governor Ralph Northam’s amendments on legislation to legalize and regulate casino gaming in the commonwealth on Wednesday.

The legislation will allow for casino economic development projects in the cities of Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Norfolk.

The bill had already passed the General Assembly and could have been signed by the governor, but Northam decided to add several amendments.

Bristol Mayor Neal Osborne told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais the amendments that held up a smooth approval process is actually a blessing in disguise.

“I think that the amendment that held this up is actually very positive too because it will earmark state funds to go to school construction, school capital projects around the state,” Osborne said. “So, I think it’s actually a blessing in disguise that we waited a little bit longer for this to pass and it did pass by broad by-partisan support so I think that shows that no matter which side of the aisle that you’re on, you support this legislation.”

The bill passed the House of Delegates, 66 yes to 29 no, and the Senate, 30 yes to nine no.

RELATED STORY: Virginia House, Senate approve Northam’s amendments to casino legislation

“It’s not just about bringing gambling to the city. One of the main reasons I’ve been a supporter of this from the beginning is because it’s a huge economic generator for our city, and especially during this time – you see that we need jobs, we need good paying jobs,” Osborne explained. “Bristol has a fairly high poverty rate and this is the type of thing that will bring in jobs with an average pay of about $40,000, which is well above what we normally make here in the city, so it’ll be a big game changer as far as people’s paychecks and their quality of life.”

One Bristol, Va. resident who agrees with the mayor is Brittany Eller.

“I honestly think that it would be good for Bristol because it would bring a lot of jobs and there are a lot of people right now, especially during this time that needs jobs so I think it would be a great thing for Bristol to have,” Eller said.

In November, residents will have the opportunity to vote for or against the casino possibly coming to Bristol in a referendum.

“So, the city will make a final determination on which casino operator we want to work with – each city will have to do that – and the next step is the November election,” Mayor Osborne explained. “Just when you go to vote for the president, the senate and the house of representatives, you’ll also be voting on a referendum whether or not to allow the casino gaming in the city, so at the end of the day it’s actually up to the voters of the city of Bristol on how we go forward.”

Some residents, like Brandon Moore, are still undecided on how they plan to vote, come November.

“I’m a little indecisive,” Moore said. “I know it could support the local economy and bring about, you know, more jobs for the local residents, on the other hand I can see the argument that it may bring in, I don’t know what you would say, undesirables, maybe some sketchy elements to the residents. So, kind of up in the air.”

Moore told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that there are a lot of variables to consider.

“I probably lean more toward bringing the casinos in because I think in the long-run, it would help the community as a whole, so that’s what I would lean towards,” he said. “It kind of seems like a double-edged sword, you know, it could go either way.”

Kay Webb has lived in Bristol, Tennessee for 30 years, but owns property on the Virginia side of the Twin Cities.

“I am very against the casino because I’ve seen reports from other towns where it’s hurt them,” Webb said. “There’s more drugs and more deaths, murders and just the lifestyle really hurt. The casino really hurts the lifestyle of the people, and that’s what I’m really disappointed in seeing. I’m really praying that the Lord will change it around and we will not get it, but only He knows. I just, I mean, I love this town.”

Webb said that it is good that there will be a referendum come November to allow local residents to voice their opinions in a meaningful way.

“I mean, they need to be able to express their opinion and if the majority says yes, what can you say?” She explained. “You know, they don’t understand or haven’t really researched it and we have researched it and we have seen how it’s hurt towns, so we would just like to not see it come in but if the people speaks, the people speaks, the majority rule goes.”

Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randy Eads said the city will choose a gaming partner, which must be screened through a pre-qualification application.

Hard Rock International has partnered with Jim McGlothlin to operate a proposed $400 million project at the former Bristol Mall.

“We are pleased that HB 4 and SB 36 gained final passage today and will become law on July 1. We want to thank those at the local and state level who have contributed to this significant opportunity. We want to thank all of these individuals and organizations for their commitment. Hard Rock Casino Bristol will generate millions of dollars in additional tax revenue and create thousands of new jobs. This massive local economic stimulus is even more important, and needed, in these challenging times.”

Hard Rock Casino Bristol Statement

Eads said that the city doesn’t have to choose that project, and they will accept applications for others through May 8.

Once the partner is chosen, city officials will file a petition in circuit court so that voters can decide on the issue in the November ballot.

If the referendum passes, it will be up to the developer when the casino would open.

View the changes to the bills HERE.

“During the 2020 legislative session, we took forward-looking and historic steps to protect vulnerable Virginians, advance the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, make voting easier and more accessible, protect workers from misclassification and wage theft, prioritize affordable housing, and curb predatory lending practices. We enacted commonsense gun safety measures, reformed criminal justice laws, and removed discriminatory and racist language still on our books. We established new programs to grow and train our workforce for 21st century jobs and took bold action to invest in our transportation infrastructure, incentivize public-private partnerships to deploy broadband in unserved communities, fight climate change, and dramatically boost Virginia’s renewable energy production. I want to thank Virginia’s legislators and the staff of the General Assembly for all of their hard work today, particularly as they did so under extraordinary circumstances. The work of government must continue, and both the House of Delegates and the Senate stepped up to make sure they conducted legislative business safely, while social distancing, and I appreciate those efforts.”

Gov. Ralph Northam’s statement on Virginia’s General Assembly’s reconvention on Wednesday’s actions

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