This November, Tennesseans will find out if a new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will be going up in Bristol, Virginia, the twin city of Bristol, Tennessee, that sits just across the state line.
Of course, it will be Virginians who will ultimately decide the matter when they vote on a ballot referendum on November 3.
Meanwhile there is a new advocacy group, “Vote Yes for Bristol,” that is working hard to encourage a favorable referendum vote.
New VA gambling legislation puts referendum on ballot
At the end of April, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law multiple gambling expansion bills. One of the bills, HB 4, amends the state’s constitution to allow casinos in five cities, including Bristol.
The bill also allows the residents of each of those cities to vote for or against a casino via a ballot referendum.
Hard Rock International was already a prime contender in Bristol. Last November, Hard Rock announced a new partnership to build a Bristol Resort and Casino.
Then earlier this month, the Virginia Lottery Board further solidified the company’s place at the front of the line, by pre-certifying Hard Rock International as “preferred casino operators” for the city.
The Hard Rock’s plans for its Bristol property call for:
- a 100,000-square-foot casino
- an equally-sized convention center
- a 750-room hotel
- a 20,000-seat concert venue plus another concert hall
- dozens of restaurants and shops
Bristol’s then-mayor, Neal Osborne, was among many voicing support for a casino as a bringer of jobs and other economic benefits. However, some city residents have objected to the plan on various grounds.
Advocacy group, others make case for a casino
Enter Vote Yes for Bristol, a group poised to make the case for a casino between now and November. The committee is led by three co-chairs:
- Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming
- Jim McGlothlin, chairman and CEO of The United Company
- Clyde Stacy, president of Par Ventures
Earlier this week, the committee was highlighted in a news release sharing endorsements of the project from city leaders.
Bill Hartley succeeded Osborne as mayor in July, and Hartley likewise supports the casino. So does School Board Chairman Steve Fletcher and Police Chief John Austin, as the release announced.
The support from Police Chief Austin comes as the city moves to expand the city’s police force. Earlier this week, the Bristol City Council voted to accept a federal grant to partially fund four new police officer positions.
Revenue from a new casino would help cover the city’s expenses for the new positions. Meanwhile, the new casino will also increase the need for extra law enforcement.
“If the voters approve the casino in November, I think everyone agrees we’ll need more policing but we’d also have the means to pay for it,” said Mayor Hartley.
In the release, Vote Yes for Bristol also made known its intention to “engage directly with local residents to answer questions and provide information about the project.” That means Bristol residents should likely expect plenty of television ads and mailings encouraging a “yes” vote over the coming months.
As factions form, all look ahead to November
The support of local leaders along with the Virginia Lottery’s pre-certification all bodes well for the Hard Rock. That is pending, of course, a favorable outcome of the referendum vote in November.
The list of positives that Vote Yes for Bristol is championing include:
- creating 1,000 temporary jobs during construction and 1,000 permanent jobs thereafter
- generating $15-20 million annually for Bristol in tax revenues
- the promise of additional economic benefits from future development by Hard Rock
On the other side of the debate, a Facebook group of Bristol residents opposing the casino has been formed. The group consists of a relatively modest 460 members, however, and has not been active since mid-May.
Much can happen over the next three months, of course. But for Bristol, TN, residents hoping to see a casino go up nearby, advocates for that happening have gained the early momentum.