Lawmakers push for casinos in 3 Virginia cities
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Casino backers from Portsmouth to Bristol are joining together to boost the odds of loosening Virginia’s gambling laws.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers promoted pro-casino legislation Monday, arguing that three struggling cities spread along Virginia’s southern border urgently need gambling to help to revive their economies.
Republican Sen. Bill Carrico and Democrat Sen. Louise Lucas led a Capitol news conference where they urged other legislators and Gov. Ralph Northam to allow developers in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth to build casinos if local voters approve referendums.
Carrico and Lucas said casinos and resorts would provide the cities, which have struggled with the decline of coal, manufacturing and other industries, with more jobs and local tax revenue.
“Let this be our Amazon,” said Lucas, referring to the tech colossus’ plans to build a new 25,000-employee headquarters in northern Virginia.
Virginia is one of a handful of states that forbids casino gambling, but lawmakers have appeared more open to changing the law in recent years. Legislators are also weighing whether to allow Virginia to offer sports wagering.
Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing for a broad study that would put off any decisions, but supporters of gambling-related bills say there’s no need to wait.
The focus on gambling issues has led to a feeding frenzy for the state’s lobbyists, with a multitude of interests trying to influence how things go.
Here’s a look at some key players as gambling legislation moves forward:
Lucas will be a focal point of casino legislation. She has tried for years to get a casino built in Portsmouth with little success but is hoping that a push by conservative lawmakers to build a Bristol casino will give her efforts new life.
At Monday’s news conference she repeatedly joked about how close she is with Carrico, who will also be key in casino negotiations. He’s a cultural conservative who said he would probably never step foot in a casino but said voters should be able to decide if they want one.
The senators are an odd couple, often at the opposite end of political debates and representing districts about 400 miles apart. But they are partnering in hopes of building a large enough coalition that can get the legislation passed.
“It is rare to see a cause that can unite people across people lines and regional boundaries, especially in such a politically divided environment,” Lucas said.
The proposed Bristol casino would be built by businessmen Clyde Stacy and Jim McGlothlin, who made a fortune in the coal industry and contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers last year.
“It opens doors,” McGlothlin said of his large donations.
The developers of a proposed Portsmouth casino are unknown. Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe Jr. said Monday that the city has a prime spot picked out along the Elizabeth River and a developer lined up named “Portsmouth Resort LLC.”
Rowe and Lucas declined to say who owns the company. Business records show it was incorporated recently by attorney and former Del. Alan Diamonstein. He said he could not say who the owners are but said an announcement would be made soon.
No developers have yet been announced for a potential Danville casino.
The have announced plans to build a casino and resort in Norfolk after spending years working to be a federally recognized tribe. Those plans face a lengthy and complicated federal approval process.
The tribe is backing Northam’s plan for a study.
“We feel very strongly that our project should not take a back seat to any other project being considered,” said Pamunkey spokesman Jay Smith.
Colonial Downs, a horse track in New Kent County, is also paying close attention to casino bill. Last year lawmakers allowed the track to operate slot-like machines at the track and satellite locations. New casinos could eat into that business.
Colonial Downs Chief Operating Officer Aaron Gomes said his company is focused on making sure any gambling-related legislation protects the track’s interests as well as the state’s horse industry.
Despite proposing a study on gaming issues, Northam said Monday he’s “open minded” to the proposals but wants to make sure any action taken is done responsibly.
Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox has said he opposes casinos. And the socially conservative Family Foundation blasted proposed casino legislation Monday as “dishonest, deluded, and dangerous.”