Casino gambling advances with Pamunkey Tribe in the driver's seat

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/14/2020, 6 a.m.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has gained a boost from the General Assembly in its efforts to build lavish casino-resort hotels ...

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has gained a boost from the General Assembly in its efforts to build lavish casino-resort hotels in Richmond and Norfolk.

This week, both the state Senate and House of Delegates passed bills for the second year to allow casino gambling that require both cities “to provide substantial and preferred consideration” to the tribe’s proposals.

As the $1.5 billion Coliseum replace- ment and Downtown redevelopment proposal recedes in the rearview mirror, the tribe’s plan to build a $350 million resort hotel and casino on Commerce Road near the Hillside Court public housing community is now potentially the single biggest private development on the horizon in Richmond.

Still a major question is whether Richmond residents want a casino, although there is little sign of any backlash.

The current slot machine-style operation, Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, opened July 1 in South Side by Colonial Downs is raking in an average of $70 million a month in gross revenue before expenses, payouts to winners and taxes, according to monthly reports from the Virginia Racing Commission.

The General Assembly voted last year to include Richmond as a casino location, but needed to pass legislation again this year to launch Las Vegas-style gambling establishments in the state’s capital city and other localities in Virginia.

The bills that passed the House and Senate this year continue to authorize the state’s first casinos in Richmond, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Danville and Bristol, with the Virginia Lottery and its oversight board serving as regulators.

While the city would have some discretion to choose another casino operator, the legislation’s language indicates that Richmond would have to provide substantial justification to eliminate the Pamunkey proposal. The only potential roadblock would be Richmond voters.

Both the House and Senate bills would require a referendum in which voters would have to approve casino gambling and the proposed site recommended by the city administration and City Council.

Assuming approval, the casinos would have less competition as both houses also approved separate bills that would ban slot machine-style games that have popped up in gas stations, convenience stores and other retail outlets in Virginia in the past two years.

The Pamunkey Tribe, which has secured financial backing from a Tennessee billionaire, originally was tapped to secure the rights to casinos in Richmond and Norfolk in the 2019 version of the legislation.

As the legislation moved this year, it initially appeared the House heeded Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s call for a competitive process.

The House version included language that would have provided an equal preference to any proposal from Pacific Entertainment, a Los Angeles investment firm that owns the Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County and the three current Rosie’s satellite gambling outlets, including the Richmond Rosie’s located in a remodeled Kmart store in the city’s South Side at the Chesterfield County border.

In what some are calling a surprise move, Richmond Delegate Jeff M. Bourne declined to go along with what Mayor Stoney wanted. Delegate Bourne won House support for his last-minute amendment that eliminated wording that would have put a casino proposal from Pacific Entertainment on equal footing with a proposal from the Pamunkey Tribe.

Delegate Bourne could not be reached for comment on the amendment, nor could rep- resentatives of Pacific Entertainment on the impact of the change.

Any group competing for a casino license would need to propose at least a $250 million investment at their chosen site, according to the House and Senate bills on casino gambling.

There also is language in the House bill calling for inclusion of non-white investors in any chosen casino project.

Mr. Gray

Mr. Gray

Casino forum Feb. 20

Robert Gray, chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, is expected to participate in the first community forum on a proposed South Side casino resort the tribe hopes to build at Ingram Avenue and Commerce Road.

City Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, is sponsoring the forum 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at Bellemeade Community Center, 1800 Lynhaven Ave., next door to Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School.

Along with Chief Gray, panelists at the forum are to include Richmond Police Chief Will Smith; Leonard Sledge, city director of economic and community development; and Mark Olinger, director of planning and development review, Ms. Robertson announced.

Details: Tavares M. Floyd, (804) 646-7964 or tavares.floyd@ric....