Officials from HeadWaters Resort & Casino and the Pamunkey Tribe told members of Norfolk City Council they have selected a new location for their temporary casino.
Concerns had been raised about plans to build the facility inside Harbor Park baseball stadium, home to Norfolk’s minor-league baseball team, the Tides.
HeadWaters is now looking to build the temporary gaming facility to the east of the ballpark rather than inside the stadium as initially considered, company officials said.
“The state laws allow an approved casino operator to open an initial gaming facility during the constructions of larger, more permanent casinos,” said John Thompson, a developer working with the Pamunkey Tribe on the HeadWaters Resort & Casino project.
“When we initially discussed the first facility, all the parties involved recognized that Harbor Park stadium presented the opportunity for a win-win scenario.
“The stadium was, and remains, in dire need of substantial improvements, and the tribe was in a position to fund a big chunk of that. That would have all been done at no tax payer expense.”
Virginia online casinos have not been legalized.
But gaming has expanded in the state with mobile sports wagering and retail casinos (the first temporary one has opened in Bristol) which will house retail sportsbooks in the future.
As the state waits for online casinos, Virginia online betting is popular. Bettors wagered more than $351 million in May, the latest month figures are available.
Since launching in January 2021, Virginia has been a Top 10 betting state, thanks in part to sites offering the best Virginia sportsbook promos.
In fact, FanDuel Sportsbook called the Virginia start its most successful launch ever to that point.
Initial Ballpark Request Approved
The request to build the casino inside Harbor Park was approved by the Norfolk Planning Commission in May.
However, issues were recently raised about the site of the proposed initial gaming facility.
“We had a referendum that our voters voted on that was very specific to terms of location and it did not include Harbor Park,” councilwoman Andria McClellan said Tuesday.
Now that Harbor Park is out, Thompson said they have identified a new location.
New Location for Temporary Casino
“So we will not be pursuing an initial gaming facility at Harbor Park,” Thompson said.
“Instead will build it in the parking lot between the Amtrak station and the stadium. It will allow for more square footage and will result in a lot more revenue back to the city and to the schools.
“Our design work on this initial facility is well underway and we plan to have a revised site plan submitted to the city by the middle of next month. We'll also be able to add substantially more hotel rooms to the site to address the significant downtown room shortage that we've all heard so much about.”
Once a site plan is submitted and approved by the city, construction on the temporary gaming facility will begin immediately, HeadWaters Resort & Casino said in a news release.
“The Tribe could open the temporary building as early as March of 2023.”
“We will be providing a major capital investment, creating thousands of jobs, and generating millions of local tax dollars that can be used to address aging schools and other critical city priorities,” said Robert Gray, chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.
HeadWaters Resort & Casino won city approval with an overwhelming majority of residents voting in favor of the project in November 2020.
But questions remain on the company's casino license status.
Where Is the Application?
“We have not had a presentation about the casino since before the referendum, I think, which was in November 2020,” McClellan said. “Meanwhile, you've got Bristol [Casino] opening up, you've got Portsmouth [casino] about to open up and I have not seen an application with the lottery board for our casino.”
The facility has 30,000 square feet of casino space featuring 870 slots, 21 tables, and a sportsbook open to the public seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
The space includes a main casino floor as well as non-smoking and high limit gaming areas with more than 70 games.
In May, Rivers Casino Portsmouth completed the steel framing of its new $300-million-plus gaming and entertainment complex in Virginia that is scheduled to open in February 2023.
“We are still in the licensing phase of the project with the Virginia Lottery,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of challenges that we are working through and have worked through.” He assured McClellan that the Virginia Lottery has everything they need from the company to obtain a license.
Once the temporary casino is open, a permanent $500 million HeadWaters Resort & Casino will come later alongside the stadium.
Five casinos are permitted under Virginia's state gaming laws.