Talks of a casino run by the Pamunkey, who claim ancestral ties to Pocahontas, are not new but became more tangible after the community officially won federal recognition as a Native American tribe in 2015. The status gave the Pamunkey various benefits and rights, such as access to federal grants, housing and educational opportunities. The federal approval also enabled the tribe to pursue a gambling development despite Virginia’s long-held ban on casino gambling, a venture that tribal leaders hope will make the Pamunkey less dependent on government programs.
“Federal recognition and the opportunities that it brings will mean greater job opportunities, more educational opportunities and the ability to provide better access to housing for our aging tribe members,” Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray said Saturday in a statement to The Washington Post. “The resort is just a piece of that bigger vision and hope for our future.”
If approved, the gambling facility could shake up the Mid-Atlantic casino market, which a little more than a year ago saw the opening of the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor in Maryland, just outside Washington.
MGM was among several groups that opposed the Pamunkey request for federal recognition, which was granted 33 years after the tribe began to seek such status in 1982. MGM was also among those challenging the group’s federal status shortly after the government recognized the tribe.
The Pamunkey reservation, one of the oldest in the United States, occupies 1,200 acres in King William County just east of Richmond. Because of its federal recognition, the tribe can purchase land in areas of Eastern Virginia where the Pamunkey used to live. That land could then become part of the reservation and house the casino complex.
The casino plans were first reported by the Daily Press newspaper in Newport News, Va.
The tribe estimates the resort and gambling facility could generate $1 billion in indirect economic impact annually, creating up to 5,000 construction jobs and 4,000 full-time jobs.
“The Pamunkey believe that this resort will help ensure the long-term success of the tribe and be a tremendous economic driver for the Commonwealth,” Gray said. “Done the right way, it can be a win-win for both. I believe that as people learn more about our plans, they will become just as excited as we are about it.”
Joe Heim contributed to this report.