First Casino in Virginia Gets Green Light

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A picture taken shows slot machines. (Photo by JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD / AFP)

Although casino gambling has been the norm in many states for quite a while, Virginia has been late to the party. However, it appears the first invitation has been sent and Bristol has been chosen as the venue.

Hard Rock Tapped

The Hard Rock brand will be the first casino in the Old Dominion state but getting there was hardly a walk in the park. It was a back and forth that continued to stall in the legislature until the state Lottery Board finally relented and granted its first-ever casino gambling license.

“The Virginia Lottery has worked diligently for two years to build the appropriate regulatory structure for casino gaming,” said Acting Executive Director Kelly T. Gee in a statement. “I am proud of the tireless work by our Gaming Compliance Department and our legal counsel for conducting the necessary investigative work to assist the Board in its decision. There are still many steps to the finish line, but there is no doubt that this is an exciting time.”

I’m not sure what Ms. Gee means regarding the “many steps to the finish line” as the temporary facility located at the old Bristol Mall is slated to open as early as this July.

“Since enacted by the 2020 General Assembly, the board’s priority for casino gaming in the commonwealth is that it be conducted with integrity and in a responsible manner,” Board Chairman Ferhan Hamid said in a statement. “Today’s approval reflects the confidence we have in the rigorous and conscientious review conducted by Virginia Lottery staff.”

State Senator, Todd Pillion, championed the project in the legislature and was more than pleased to see the fruits of his labor finally manifest.

“This is another important step in the process of bringing Hard Rock Bristol to life,” Pillion said. “As approved in overwhelming fashion by the citizens of Bristol, this project will be transformative for the surrounding region which stands to benefit from the thousands of jobs that will be created and the millions of dollars in new revenue that will improve our infrastructure, enhance public safety, fund public schools, and strengthen our communities. I applaud the developers, our local leaders, my colleagues in the General Assembly, and the regulators who are working to ensure a thoughtful and responsible approach to this project.”

Expansion in the Offing

The Hard Rock Bristol will begin by opening a temporary facility that will include a 30,000 square feet casino with 870 slots, 22 table games, 2 restaurants, 2 bars, along with a sportsbook, and a retail site. But then a phase one on the permanent digs will commence and once construction is complete, the developers envision 1,500 slots, 55 table games, and a 300-room hotel.

Ultimately, the plan is to use the projected $400 million budget for 750 hotel rooms, 5 restaurants, 4 bars and lounges, a sportsbook, and an indoor venue for up to 2,300 patrons that can be expanded to accommodate outdoor events.

“We are excited by the Virginia Lottery Board’s action today granting a license to open Virginia’s first casino in Bristol subject to the completion of outstanding operational activities,” Jon Lucas, chief operating officer of Hard Rock International said in a written statement.

Lucas also added, “We appreciate the Virginia Lottery’s assistance and diligence in working closely with our team over many months to reach today’s important milestone for Bristol, Southwest Virginia, and the commonwealth.”