To go forward with the first casino in Norfolk, the Virginia General Assembly would need to pass a commercial gaming bill this spring. But in Richmond, the Pamunkey can use their federally recognized status under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to enact their plan.
“The tribe has been working toward this for over three decades,” spokesman Jay Smith said Friday. “They are ready to move as quickly as they can.”
Proceeds from the casino would benefit the estimated 460 tribe members, most of whom reside in Virginia. The Pamunkey reservation in King William County is one of the oldest in the United States. Smith said the money would be used for increasing access to health care, education and cultural opportunities.
“This will allow them to get off of their reliance on federal grants and programs,” he said. “They can’t afford to wait much longer.”
The tribe’s announcement came with conceptual images of a tall glass building with balconies and a roof deck. The structure would be built on three properties recently contracted or purchased by the tribe; the fourth, along Jefferson Davis Highway, would be the location for a workforce training center.
The tribe estimates the project would create 1,000 construction jobs and 1,500 casino jobs. When construction is complete, the training center property would be converted to a grocery store, health clinic or other community resource — one of the ways the tribe is hoping to gain support from the Richmond community. On Friday, it launched a Facebook page called “All In for Richmond Casino,” and encouraged gambling fans to follow along for updates.
Lobbyists long tried to change the state’s resistance to casinos, pointing to potential windfalls that come from heavy gambling taxes. But bipartisan opposition in the legislature and religious objections prevailed. Things changed in 2018 when video horse-racing terminals similar to slot machines were legalized and gambling parlors opened in south Richmond. In 2019, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill that would allow five cities — Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, Norfolk and Richmond — to seek commercial casino licenses, but only if the legislation is re-approved this year.
If lawmakers and the governor greenlight the bill, the path ahead for the Pamunkey tribe would be far smoother. Both casinos could become a reality. Without the legalization of commercial gambling, the Norfolk project would be much more complicated, involving land trusts and federal laws.
The tribe spokesman said the Pamunkey will wait to see what happens in the legislature before they make their next move. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the issue before the legislative session ends on March 7.