WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – As of January 7, there are now two proposals to bring casinos to our region.
The proposed sites are within four miles of each other. One is at the former Bristol Mall in Virginia; the other, adjacent to The Pinnacle retail development in Washington County, Virginia.
A Second casino and resort project announcement
On Tuesday, officials with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced an agreement was reached to develop and run a proposed Washington County, Virginia casino adjacent to the Pinnacle Retail Development.
According to a release from Richard Sneed, the chief of EBCI, the casino will be part of a 350-acre tract. Nearby will be a 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue, recreational facilities and a hotel with an indoor waterpark.
Gregory Habeeb, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Project Attorney, told News Channel 11’s Jackie DeFusco that the idea behind this proposed project is to spur job growth and economic development, along with recognizing the tribal heritage or the Eastern Band of Cherokee in Washington County, Virginia.
Habeeb said the reason they announced the project now is in part because they wanted to make it public before the General Assembly convened in Richmond.
Before either project can move forward, Virginia lawmakers first need to legalize casino gambling.
Habeeb said the General Assembly has made it “fairly clear” that they’re not looking to set up multiple casinos in a locality. Project developers think lawmakers should create a process that allows for regional competition before a project is picked.
“Some may want to be first in the door and then close the door to competition so that they’re the only voice at the table. That’s how you get bad casinos and as I said before the only thing worse than no casinos is bad casinos. The right way to do this is to have an open, transparent process where all potential projects are evaluated,” Habeeb said.
Bristol, Virginia city leaders who endorsed the casino project at the old Bristol Mall in Fall 2018 said the new proposal is late to the game.
“There’s an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said City Manager Randall Eads. “This announcement today could hurt all of Southwest Virginia and I do not want that to happen. Southwest Virginia must work together and not against one another in order for true economic development to occur in our region.”
In 2019, the General Assembly voted to study the impact of casino gambling in five designated localities.
The Bristol Mall proposal was one of the projects analyzed by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission ahead of the 2020 session.
Bristol, Virginia Mayor Neal Osborne said he fears the latest proposal could derail legislative progress. “It throws a wrench into the process that we’re already well into and it could put us at risk,” he said.
Tuesday evening, News Channel 11 received a statement from the Bristol Resort and Casino project about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino project announcement.
“In September 2018, we announced plans for the Bristol Resort & Casino. Over the last 16 months, we have been working with state and local leaders to see this project through to completion, as a catalyst to boost our local economy in Bristol and Southwest Virginia. We understand, first-hand, what these jobs mean to our community.
Today’s announcement, hours before the start of the 2020 General Assembly Session, does not change our focus.
Our project has the existing infrastructure and is shovel-ready. We have a tremendous partner, Hard Rock International, whose deep roots in live music entertainment and world-class memorabilia collection are a perfect complement to our region’s country music heritage.
We are proud to have the full support of our local elected leaders and the entire Southwest Virginia General Assembly delegation, which recognize the tremendous value of bringing thousands of new jobs and millions in additional tax revenue to our region. From the outset, we recognized the potential for the Bristol Resort & Casino to have a transformative impact on the entire region. That is why we proposed a revenue sharing agreement so that all of the localities in Southwest Virginia could benefit, including Bristol and its neighboring jurisdictions.
As we move into the 2020 Session, we will continue our hard work to make the Bristol Resort & Casino a reality. “-Bristol Resort and Casino
What do each of the casino projects offer?
In the initial announcement in September 2018 the developers named some of the following amenities that would be featured at the proposed resort and casino.
- 90,000 square-ft casino
- 90,000 square-ft dedicated to children’s activities
- 25,000 square-ft for sports betting
- 600-1,000 room hotel site
- 50 stores and restaurants to be leased out on property
- live entertainment
- wedding and event venues
- family arcade
- mini golf
- convention and conference center
- virtual games
The following details about the proposed resort and casino in Washington County, Va. near The Pinnacle were in a news release issued Tuesday. It read in part that, “Negotiations are underway to finalize those plans.”
- 15,000 seat outdoor concert venue
- Recreational Facilities
- Hotel featuring an indoor waterpark
A look back at the Bristol, Va. Casino Proposal
In September 2018, developers Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy made the announcement about a proposed resort and casino in a news conference inside the vacant mall.
During the announcement, business leaders went over a long list of amenities including indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants, suites, fitness center, live entertainment, spa, salon, shops, boutiques, goods from artisans and craftsmen, wedding and event venues, family arcade, go-kart racing, a kid’s waterpark, business center, miniature golf, museum of local history, golf and baseball simulators, convention and conference center and even virtual games.
PREVIOUS STORY: An inside look at the proposed Bristol Resort and Casino
It was also in 2018 when organizers came together in opposition of the proposal, rallying against the project.
Members of the religious community in Bristol, Virginia expressed concerns that a casino would bring an increase in organized crime, addiction and poverty.
Project developers have sold the project as a critical opportunity to bring jobs and tax revenue back to a city that has long struggled economically. The casino would be funded through private investment, not taxpayer dollars.
In November 2019, project developers named Hard Rock as the operator of the proposed casino at the former Bristol Mall. According to the developers, the new casino would be named Hard Rock Casino Bristol.
Source: Bristol Resort and Casino
Just days ago, casino developers confirmed with News Channel 11 that the proposed casino would be located in the former Sears store, while the convention center will occupy the two-story Belk location.
Plans remain the same for the proposed hotel to be constructed in the rear parking lot of the property off Gate City Highway.
Developers also confirmed that if approved by the General Assembly and voters in Bristol, Virginia, Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino could begin operating in 2022.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Newly released study reveals potential impact of casinos in Virginia
Stay with News Channel 11 as we continue to follow this developing story.