Bristol TN Could End Up With A Casino Minutes Away, But It’s Up To VA Voters

Posted on May 5, 2020

Tennessee has no casinos, nor will it anytime soon. That said, one of its cities has moved a step closer to being especially near one after Virginia lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam came to an agreement over bringing casino gambling to Tennessee’s neighbor.

Not only that, but Bristol, VA  has already been selected as one of five cities where casinos might appear. Bristol, VA is the twin city of Tennessee’s Bristol and just over the state’s northeastern border.

Could Bristol become a casino destination for Tennesseans? Perhaps so, but we’ll have to wait until November at least to know more.

Bristol voters will have their say on casino

Last week Gov. Northam signed three gambling expansion bills into law, two of which will bring online-only like sports betting. The setup for VA sportsbooks is similar to what Tennessee lawmakers made legal in 2019. Most of the betting will be online, but sports venues could potentially open retail sportsbooks.

The third bill, HB 4, proposes to amend the state’s constitution to allow casinos to be built in Bristol and four other Virginia cities:

  • Danville
  • Norfolk
  • Portsmouth
  • Richmond

However, voters in each of those Virginia cities will get a say this November when they get a chance to vote for or against a casino in a ballot referendum.

Some for, some against bringing casino gambling to Bristol

How will voters in Bristol, VA vote? We know the city’s mayor, Neal Osborne, will be casting a ballot in favor of it.

“It’s not just about bringing gambling to the city,” Osborne told WJHL-TV. “It’s a huge economic generator for our city, and especially during this time.”

Citing the city’s “fairly high poverty rate,” Osborne noted how a casino could “bring in jobs with an average pay of $40,000” or higher than average in the city. “So it’ll be a big game-changer as far as people’s paychecks and their quality of life.”

Meanwhile, some residents were less sanguine about the prospect of bringing a casino to Bristol.

One, Brandon Moore, wondered if along with added jobs a casino would also bring “undesirables” or some “sketchy elements” to the area.

Meanwhile, Kay Webb who has lived in Bristol, Tennessee for 30 years but who owns property on the Virginia side, says she’s “very against the casino” because she believes along with it will come “more drugs and more deaths” and other factors negatively affecting “the lifestyle of the people.”

Hard Rock leading contender for Bristol property

Last November, Hard Rock International announced a partnership with a new Bristol Resort & Casino team to bring a Hard Rock Casino to the city.

Developers later confirmed the Bristol Mall as a possible location for the proposed resort-style casino, with 2022 a possible opening date. Estimates suggest the project could cost around $400 million.

That said, a new Bristol casino wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Hard Rock casino, although the city is only accepting applications from other developers through the end of this week.

Once the city has selected a casino partner, officials will file a petition in circuit court in order to have voters be able to vote on a referendum this fall.

Martin Harris Avatar
Written by
Martin Harris

Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.

View all posts by Martin Harris