Organizers say more than one thousand people gathered in downtown Bristol, Virginia Sunday evening to show their opposition to a project that would convert the vacant Bristol Mall into a casino.

This comes after Bristol, Virginia City Council voted unanimously in September to pass a resolution of support for the proposal, even after about a dozen community members spoke in opposition.

Since then, the religious community has been working to raise awareness. Organizers tell News Channel 11 over 40 pastors attended the rally tonight with members of their congregation. 

Several pastors said in interviews Sunday that they’re united in their concern that a casino will be accompanied by increases in organized crime, addiction and poverty. They encouraged people to do their own research. 

Organizers said Sunday they’ve now distributed nearly 2 thousand yard signs and gathered hundreds of petition signatures that they plan to pass along to city leaders in Virginia and Tennessee. 

The project cannot move forward without a change to Virginia state law, which currently bans casino style gambling. 

State Sen. Bill Carrico’s office told News Channel 11 when the casino project was first announced that he would also push for a public referendum. 

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.