Virginia Lawmakers to Talk Bristol Casino Bill at News Conference

Virginia’s Del. Israel O’Quinn and Sen. Bill Carrico gear up preparations for casino legalization effort

Two Virginia lawmakers are set to discuss today the parameters of a bill that would allow the construction of a $150-million casino resort in the city of Bristol, news outlet the Bristol Herald Courier reports.

State Del. Israel O’Quinn and Sen. Bill Carrico will hold a news conference at 3 pm local time at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to reveal details about their effort to secure permission from the General Assembly and the Virginia Governor for what could be the state’s first full-scale casino.

The legislative push arrived after two Bristol businessmen – Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy – announced earlier this year plans to build a casino resort at the site of the vacant Bristol Mall. Their project involves the development of a $150-million property that will feature a casino floor with gaming machines and table games, a hotel, a conference center, dining facilities, retail space, and family-friendly entertainment options, among other amenities.

The resort is hoped to turn into a major draw for tourists and to have a massive economic impact. According to initial estimates, the property is expected to generate 2,000 jobs during its first year of operation, 3,000 jobs by year five, and more than 5,200 jobs after seven years of operation. Owners have also said that economic impact will reach $1.5 billion for Southwest Virginia and $1.9 billion for the whole state after year seven. The property is expected to initially welcome 1 million guests a year and that number is poised to grow to 3 million a year within the first five years of operation.

The Most Tightly Regulated Business

With casino gambling currently being illegal under Virginia laws, the two Bristol businessmen will need approval from the state General Assembly in order to be able to move forward with their project. A bill calling for authorization of the development of the Bristol Mall resort will thus need to be submitted to the Legislature.

Del. O’Quinn and Sen. Carrico are yet to craft the piece of legislation. As mentioned earlier, they will hold a news conference today to discuss details about their effort. Del. O’Quinn told the Bristol Herald Courier that this was probably the first time local lawmakers were calling a news conference to talk about a bill, but the amount of interest the piece has gained so far, even though it is yet to be drafted, justified the event.

The two lawmakers are expected to discuss a probable timeline for the bill’s introduction and to provide information about how the process of legislative approval works.

Del. O’Quinn said he and Sen. Carrico “feel very strongly that the only way [they] can support this is if there is a local referendum and that if people approve the project, they will make sure “it is the most tightly regulated business in all of Virginia.”

The Bristol city charter does not allow for public referendums at present, but changes might be on the way. The City Council gave the nod to a series of proposed reforms to the city’s charter, including the permission of public referendums. The proposals need approval from the General Assembly. If the Legislature gives the green light to those as well as to the casino bill, they will all be able to take effect on July 1, 2019.

Is Gambling Finally Coming to Virginia?

Virginia lawmakers have historically opposed any forms of gambling expansion. However, they may have a change of heart this time around as federal authorities allowed the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino earlier this year and tribal officials have begun their search for a site in Virginia.

Del. O’Quinn said that Virginia lawmakers do not have any power to stop the construction of the tribal casino and that they will not be able to collect any tax proceeds from the gambling venue. As a result, they might decide to approve the establishment of a commercial property that will rival the tribal one and produce tax revenue for the state’s coffers.

Sports betting is another gambling practice that is expected to be discussed in the Legislature when the 2019 session convenes in early January. Earlier this month, Del. Mark Sickles pre-filed House Bill 1638 that calls for the legalization and regulation of sports gambling at a time when more and more states are looking to capitalize on the mid-May decision of the US Supreme Court to lift a long-standing federal ban on betting.

However, HB 1638 arrives with a little bit of a twist as, unlike in all other states where wagering was legalized over the past several months, the legislative piece does not include provisions for in-person betting. The bill instead calls for the legalization of sports betting platforms, identifying those as a website, app, or other platforms accessible via the Internet or mobile, wireless, or similar communications technology that sports bettors use to place sports bets.”

According to estimates by Oxford Economics, legal mobile betting could generate $380 million in annual net revenue and betting handle of $5.2 billion. It is to be seen whether these early projections will tempt Virginia lawmakers to jump into the nascent US sports betting market.

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