Governor Ralph Northam announced on April 11 that he will be amending a pair of bills that would permit casinos in Virginia by referendum. The bills will now be sent back to the General Assembly.
The bills in question are HB 4 and SB 36 which grant permission to the financially troubled cities of Danville, Portsmouth, Richmond, Bristol, and Norfolk to commence a public referendum for residents that would determine if a privately owned casino could operate there.
Both bills were able to pass easily in the Virginia House and Senate, garnering bipartisan agreement.
Virginian legislators are slated to return to Richmond on April 22 to reconvene their session. If they sign off on the proposed amendments, the bills will become law, which would then allow referendums in the named cities on Nov. 3. If they reject Northam’s changes, the original bills will return to the governor, which he can then sign or veto.
According to deputy policy advisor Carter Hutchinson, Gov. Northam’s goal with his amendments is to allocate the state’s share of gaming taxes to funding the construction, renovation, and repairs of public schools across the state, rather than be directed to the general fund. This will not include tax revenues directed towards localities.
Casinos are expected to make huge contributions to Virginia’s economy. According to a study “Gaming In The Commonwealth” conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in 2019, the five casinos could gain roughly $900 million in profit over five years. The Bristol casino, in particular could generate up to $15 million a year for the state, and $7.8 million for Bristol.
Based on these projections and the tax brackets in the bill, Hutchinson estimates that the state’s take would be $114 million, while localities would take $65 million.
Bristol Casino Team Confident in Bills’ Future
The Bristol casino proposal is being led by local businessmen Clyde Stacy and Jim McGlothlin, who plan on partnering with Hard Rock International to operate the Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino. The location will be at Bristol Mall and is expected to cost up to $400 million. The Bristol project leaders have stated that the governor’s amendments will not affect their plans, and are confident that their efforts to pass the casino bills will pay off.
The Bristol casino’s gaming taxes will be divided among Bristol and the other counties who are part of the Bristol service district of the Virginia Department of Transportation. The casino bills mandate that a “Regional Improvement Commission” be formed to manage the funds and distribute them accordingly.