Entertainment company Hard Rock International, along with business partners and state and local officials last Friday, cheered the opening of Virginia's first casino in Bristol.
Hard Rock sees the casino as the newest economic driver for Bristol that will grow the city and surrounding area.
A traditional ribbon cutting commemorated the official opening of the temporary casino. A signature Hard Rock guitar smashing will occur when the permanent casino opens in May 2024.
As part of the ceremony, Bristol Casino presented a $100,000 donation to the United Way of Bristol Tennessee/Virginia from gaming proceeds generated during special events on July 5 and 7. The casino opened to the public on July 8.
The temporary full-service casino consists of 30,000 square feet of casino space featuring 870 slots, 21 tables, a sportsbook open to the public seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with ample parking. The space includes a main casino floor as well as non-smoking and high limit gaming areas with more than 70 games.
Guests also have food options like Mr. Lucky’s, a new restaurant, Brick’d, a brick oven pizza and grab-and-go food outlet, and Bristol Bar, a sports bar and lounge with live entertainment.
The facility also has memorabilia pieces on display from country music legends Buck Owens, Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton and Hank Williams, just to name a few.
There are no Virginia online casinos yet, but gaming in the state is clearly becoming more accessible.
Fortunately, while Virginians wait for online casinos, there are plenty of Virginia sports betting sites to enjoy.
Temporary Hard Rock Casinos
But why a “temporary” casino before the full permanent facility is ready?
“We did it in Rockford, Illinois, recently. So we have a little practice with it,” Jon Lucas, chief operating officer for Hard Rock International, said on July 8. “We certainly prefer opening the full facility, but the community and state and our partners were really eager to get something going here.
“So we did this as we continue to move forward with the permanent (location). The good news here is this will not be disruptive to our work going forward with the permanent. We'll be able to work without any disruption.”
Virginia cities Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth passed casino referendums in November 2020 by large margins. Norfolk will be host to HeadWaters Resort & Casino, which is also planning a temporary casino before the full facility is ready.
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Bristol Population Drop
The latest U.S. Census report, from 2020, shows Bristol has experienced a 3.5% decline in population since 2010 (from 17,835 to 17,219), the biggest drop in population out of all four cities approved for casinos in Virginia.
Responding to the Census report, Allie Evangelista, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol said, “I've been in different environments, different states all over the country. I've seen what the gaming industry will do to small towns. Every one of those towns has evolved and grown because of the casino industry. So I believe this is going to be a great opportunity here for the area for sure.”
Hard Rock Bristol business partners see the casino having an immediate impact in boosting Bristol’s economy by bringing at least 600 new jobs to the city.
“The casino will join the region’s other fun entertainment and recreational tourism assets to help attract even more visitors to Bristol, the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia,” Evangelista said.
Local Concerns Raised
During a news conference on opening day, reporters asked how Hard Rock is handling some public opposition to the casino and its plan to be open 24 hours with drinking, smoking and gambling.
“I have not met any of those people yet. So that is good,” Evangelista said. “But this is what's beautiful about this industry. We have a very high level of integrity. We really take good care of our guests. We want to make sure this is a great opportunity for the community, but also that brings jobs, that brings development, that brings tax money to the area.
“Problem gambling is part of our training so that we are able to help guests. But at the same time, we are able to give back to the community.”
Situated at the site of the former Bristol Mall, “Bristol Casino — Future Home of Hard Rock” is seconds off Interstate 81 (Exit 1 in Virginia).
From entertainment to community impact, the temporary casino is expected to create new jobs in Bristol and generate significant additional tax revenue for the city, the region and the commonwealth, officials said.