BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – The ‘Vote Yes for Bristol’ campaign has kicked off for the casino referendum in the November Election and officials say the candidate isn’t a person, but in fact, Bristol itself.

Over the last month, or so, Southwest Virginia businesses – The United Company and Par Ventures – along with Hard Rock International have teamed up to campaign for the citizens of Bristol to approve casino gambling through a referendum in the November election.

“This is essentially like any other campaign that you might think, we just don’t have a candidate. The candidate really is Bristol, and what this project can do for Bristol. We’re using your typical means of communicating with voters, obviously there’s a lot going on this election cycle, particularly at the federal level with the presidential race, in Virginia we also have a U.S. Senate race, so we’re using very much those same types of tools to communicate to the citizens,” The United Company General Counsel Jasen Eige told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Postcards from the “Vote Yes for Bristol” campaign arrived in mailboxes across Bristol, Virginia, with a message from the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, encouraging citizens to vote ‘yes’ for the casino.

Officials with The United Company told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the “Vote Yes for Bristol” Referendum Committee are still trying to gather the costs associated with advertising.

“Candidly, we’re still trying to gather the costs associated with advertising and a lot of that will be dictated by what the ultimate costs are to do that on this job,” said The United Company Chief Operating Officer Martin Kent.

According to the Virginia Department of Elections Campaign Finance Reports, the committee received cash contributions totaling $300,000 since July 31.

Since the inception of the Bristol casino proposal, the Virginia Public Access Project reported an additional $650,000 has been spent on getting the casino legislation to where it is today.

“I think just making ourselves available, we give presentations all the time to local groups, civic groups and organizations that would like us to come speak to their members anywhere from there to, like you said, we have mailers and reaching out to people that way, so I don’t think there’s any one specific way, just making sure people have the information they need to make an informed decision to support this project, and frankly, to support Bristol, Virginia,” Eige said.

The referendum committee announced a ‘small business coalition’ with local businesses backing the casino referendum. Officials said that they will be announcing more coalitions in the near future.

“Well, I think today we announced our first coalition – ‘small business coalition’ – and this is made up of small businesses here in Bristol that are supporting this project. They realize the importance this project will have on the economy here for not only the City of Bristol, Virginia, but also Bristol, Tennessee, and frankly, our region – Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. So that was big news today that we just announced, we’ll have some other coalitions to announce at a later date, but we’re excited to have these small businesses and others that are continuing to join the effort to bring this project to a reality,” Eige said.

If referendum passes, what’s next?

“Assuming we’re successful in November 3, shortly thereafter there will be an additional evaluation done of the mall, the interior of the mall, to determine exactly what modifications will be made from an infrastructure perspective, and then shortly thereafter, and sort of simultaneously with that, we will begin the application licensure process with the Virginia Lottery Board. That can take anywhere from months to up to a year, it’s really up to the lottery board, but we intend – assuming the citizens of Bristol, Virginia, approve this – to begin, at least, initial site work to ensure that we are ready and able to open, and I know we have said this before, but it probably bears saying one more time – we are hopeful to be able to open a temporary casino at the site and so, that will require the full licensure by the Virginia Lottery Department, but at the same time, it will not require, initially, the full development of the entire mall property. We will be able to do that concurrently with the hopeful opening of a temporary casino as well build it out,” Kent explained.

Kent said Hard Rock is working on updating site plans.