RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia’s Capital City looks to be on the cusp of approving its preferred casino project but the betting is likely to start in other parts of the state sooner.
After a competitive bid, a plan to build “ONE Casino + Resort” in Richmond’s Southside is expected to come before the City Council for approval next week after it received a key recommendation from a mayor-appointed evaluation committee on Thursday. After that, voters will have a say in November.
This comes after the Virginia General Assembly gave five “economically distressed” localities permission to move forward with casino projects last year.
However, developments in four other cities–Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth–are ahead of the game after winning over a majority of voters in local referendums last fall.
Those localities are now waiting eagerly for a promised boost in economic growth but a lengthy regulatory process is forcing developers to hold off on construction for now.
“Casino gaming probably won’t be available in any city in Virginia any earlier than spring or summer of next year,” Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kevin Hall told 8News on Friday. “These are major developments that have a really long runway between approval, licensing, construction and opening.”
With initial casino regulations in effect, a review board within the Virginia Lottery has started accepting applications for licensure.
Hall said those aren’t expected to be approved until April 2022. That’s because the process requires extensive vetting of operators, suppliers, vendors and every employee with access to the gaming area, according to Hall.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure that this is done the appropriate way, that we don’t take any shortcuts and that we make sure the casino operators demonstrate the highest integrity,” Hall said.
With an uncertain licensing timeline, developers have been hesitant to specify target dates for opening, though they have provided estimates.
In Hampton Roads, tension is brewing over which of two projects–less than seven miles apart–will launch first.
“We certainly want to be the first and we certainly want to be among the best,” said Delceno Miles, a spokesperson for the Rivers Casino project in Portsmouth, in a phone interview on Friday. “There is a competitive advantage to being first.”
Miles predicted the facility could open as soon as fall 2022 with a gaming floor, sports wagering lounge, event center, outdoor entertainment venue and dining options.
In Norfolk, the HeadWaters Resort & Casino being spearheaded by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is expected to fully open in 2023, according to spokesperson Jay Smith.
A Caesars Casino spokesperson Kristin Soo Hoo said they expect to open in Danville by the fourth quarter of 2023.
So far, developers of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Bristol have proposed the most ambitious timeline, initially announcing plans to open up a temporary gaming floor by the end of 2021.
“That’s highly unlikely,” Hall said. “It has to follow all of the rules of permanent casino gaming but it can occur in a temporary facility while construction is underway. They still have to go though the full background check and licensing process.”
Hall said, of the four projects approved by a local referendum, only developers in Bristol have so far expressed public interest in opening a temporary gaming floor.
However, Mark Hubbard, a spokesperson for ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond, said they’re considering doing so before the end of 2022, though they don’t expect to fully open until 2023 earliest. Hubbard cautioned that all of this hinges on winning the approval of City Council, voters and the Virginia Lottery.
Hall said that timeline is realistic, even with the comparably late start. He said ONE Casino + Resort won’t be able to apply for a license until after November’s referendum.