How casino support in Danville changes the game for Bristol

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Local leaders and developers say the odds of casino-style gambling being legalized in Virginia’s General Assembly may be better than ever after Danville, Virginia’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday night supporting legislation that could loosen the state’s notoriously restrictive gambling laws.

Danville joined local leaders in Bristol, Virginia and Portsmouth in their support for legislation that, if passed by the General Assembly, would require a casino proposal to win a majority in a local referendum. 

There are plenty who oppose the idea of just one casino in Southern Virginia, never mind two. 

A recent proposal to transform the old Bristol Mall into a resort and casino has faced criticism, rooted in fears that access to gambling will only bring more poverty, crime and addiction to the area. 

Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, and Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol said in a press conference the legislation they sponsored wouldn’t allow for just any locality to hold a referendum and potentially go through with a casino project. 

Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads said in an interview Friday that the bill is narrowly tailored for areas that are economically disadvantaged and close to a state line. 

Eads and Andy Poarch, a spokesperson for the Bristol Resort & Casino, agreed that Danville’s City Council’s support improves the chances of the bill making it through the General Assembly. 

“I think it’s a positive because it’s letting folks in Richmond know we want to be in control of our own destiny,” said Eads. “We have to do something different in these economically distressed areas of Virginia because what we’ve been doing in the past is not working.” 

Eads said both Bristol and Danville have seen job loss, wage stagnation and population decline over the years. 

“Right now we are seeing an exodus of people leaving, not just Bristol, but Southwest Virginia as a whole because there’s nothing to go back to. This is one thing that can really drive a region’s economy,” said Eads.  

That’s why developers reached out to Danville’s City Council to support the legislation, even though they’ve yet to discuss the possibility of actually building a second casino there, according to Poarch. 

Poarch, when asked if they would consider doing so in the future, said, “I think at this stage it’s premature to make that determination.” 

When asked if he thought a second casino, just three hours away from Bristol, might dilute the success of the project by diverting visitors, Poarch said the two markets would draw visitors from distinct regions that wouldn’t overlap with one another.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an issue of competition between Danville in Bristol. That’s not a concern of mine whatsoever,” said Eads. 

To the contrary, Eads said working together with leaders in Portsmouth and Danville to make the case to the General Assembly will benefit Bristol. 

“When you’re having that story come from three localities across Virginia I think that’s just more powerful on the legislators and it’s something that they have to listen to,” said Eads. 

Eads said he’s already been in contact with the city attorney in Portsmouth and that he plans to reach out to leaders in Danville in the coming weeks. 

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