Hard Rock Bristol has received the first commercial casino license to be issued in Virginia.
It was seemingly unimaginable that Virginia would move to legalize commercial casinos just a decade ago. The state had long opposed most forms of gambling — the primary exception being its state-run lottery.
That changed in 2020 when the Virginia General Assembly approved and then-Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed House Bill 4 into law. The statute authorized commercial casinos in economically distressed cities that met certain qualifying criteria.
The legalization was initially led by Virginia businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy. The coal tycoons sought state authorization to bring a casino to their Bristol hometown to revitalize the local economy and spur new life to the shuttered Bristol Mall.
The businessmen eventually won over state lawmakers and Northam. The bill additionally granted a single casino opportunity for Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Danville. Those cities also met the qualifying benchmarks, such as experiencing an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018, a poverty rate of at least 20% in 2017, and a population decrease of at least 20% from 1990 to 2016.
HB 4 required that a casino be formally approved through a local ballot referendum showing support among city residents for the gaming initiative. Only Richmond voters rejected their casino opportunity.
Casino projects are moving forward in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. And Bristol is the first to receive the blessing of the Virginia Lottery Board, which is overseeing the expanded gaming.
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,” said Virginia Lottery Board Chair Ferhan Hamid in issuing Hard Rock Bristol its gaming license. “Today’s approval reflects the confidence we have in the rigorous and conscientious review conducted by Virginia Lottery staff.”
Ferhan added that board officials will be on-site at the casino site over the next few months, observing the receipt of gaming equipment and monitoring internal controls to ensure full compliance with the state’s new industry.
Temporary Casino Details
Hard Rock Bristol is a $300 million undertaking that involves transforming part of the Bristol Mall into a casino resort. The project additionally includes the construction of a hotel tower.
While the finished project isn’t expected until sometime in 2025, Hard Rock Bristol plans to open a temporary casino with 900 slots, 20 table games, and a sportsbook this July. The 30,000-square-foot space will occupy part of the former mall, which has sat vacant since 2017. The pop-up casino will replace what was a Belk department store.
As for the permanent resort, the property blueprint calls for a casino with 2,700 slots, 100 table games, a sportsbook, a 750-room hotel, and seven restaurants and four bars. An on-site concert venue with a capacity of 3,200 people and an outdoor entertainment venue built to accommodate 20,000 people are also included.
The resort destination additionally plans to incorporate a spa, retail shopping, Hard Rock Café, and 50,000 square feet of convention space.
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