Hard Rock Bristol Awarded License to Operate Virginia’s First Casino

Hard Rock Bristol Awarded License to Operate Virginia’s First Casino

The Virginia Lottery Board has issued a “facility operator’s license” to Hard Rock Bristol that will open the doors to Virginia's first casino. Hard Rock is scheduled to open a temporary facility in Bristol on July 8.

With a 7-0 vote, the board issued the license following a comprehensive review of application materials and an extensive background investigation.

“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,” Board Chairman Ferhan Hamid said in a news release. “Today’s approval reflects the confidence we have in the rigorous and conscientious review conducted by Virginia Lottery staff.”

Acting Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kelly Gee said ‘there are still many steps to the finish line, but there is no doubt that this is an exciting time."

“The Virginia Lottery has worked diligently for two years to build the appropriate regulatory structure for casino gaming,” Gee added in the release. “I am proud of the tireless work by our Gaming Compliance Department and our legal counsel for conducting the necessary investigative work to assist the board in its decision.”

The Lottery’s Gaming Compliance Department will continue to work closely with Hard Rock Bristol as it prepares to open a temporary facility on the site of the former Bristol Mall, the release said.

“We will be on-site at the casino over the next couple of months observing the receipt of gaming equipment, reviewing internal controls, and ensuring full compliance with the regulations,” Virginia Lottery Deputy Executive Director of Gaming Compliance Gina Smith said in the release.

Located at 500 Gate City Highway in Bristol, the casino would be ready for business in a few months, City of Bristol Major Anthony Farnum announced last month on Facebook, citing a news release from Hard Rock International.

“We continue to hire new team members daily and are working hard to fill remaining positions with hiring events over the next couple of months,” Allie Evangelista, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol, said. Evangelista was appointed president in February.

Details on the Bristol Casino

The temporary facility will have about 30,000 square feet of casino space, featuring approximately 900 gaming slots, 20 tables and a sportsbook for a variety of gaming options.

The permanent casino, to come later, will include seven restaurants and four bars, a 3,200-seat Hard Rock Live venue, a 20,000-person outdoor entertainment venue, a country western nightlife experience and a Hard Rock Cafe. The project will cost more than $300 million.

The new Bristol location will hold memorabilia pieces from country music legends Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and others, including Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Buck Owens and Hank Williams.

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More VA Online Sportsbooks Coming

There are no Virginia online casinos yet, but gaming in the state is becoming more accessible.

A robust Virginia sports betting market — all online currently — is doing very well in its first full year of operation.

Hard Rock was the latest online sportsbook to go live in Virginia last month. The sportsbook is joining a Virginia sports betting market that reached nearly $3 billion in handle during its first year, 2021.

During the board meeting Wednesday, a presentation from the Virginia Lottery indicated that SI Sportsbook was scheduled to launch Wednesday (that didn’t happen, but it could go live any day) and Betway is scheduled to launch on May 18.

They would be the state’s 13th and 14th online sportsbooks, respectively. Two other online operators have received mobile-only licenses, but they have not been identified by the lottery. If Richmond voters approve a casino, it could also receive a license.

Other Casino Licenses in the Works

The lottery board continues to review application materials for three more proposed casinos in Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Each was approved by voters in local referenda in November 2020. A temporary casino is on the agenda for the Norfolk City Planning Commission meeting this week.

Richmond recently was approved to hold a second referendum in November on the state’s fifth casino project.

Aside from the state-run lottery, there are four different forms of gambling currently allowed under Virginia law: casino gaming and sports betting; horse racing and historical horse racing; skill games; and charitable gaming.

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Keith Stein

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for BetVirginia.com. He has a combined 27 years of experience in freelance writing, full-time journalism and supporting monthly and weekly news publications. He has also worked as a contributing writer with United Press International.

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