Plans for a second temporary casino in Virginia moved forward on Thursday after the Norfolk Planning Commission approved a request from the Pamunkey Tribe to open a gaming facility at Harbor Park. Harbor Park is home to Norfolk’s minor-league baseball team, the Tides. A permanent $500 million HeadWaters Resort & Casino will come later alongside the stadium.
HeadWaters already had a deal as the exclusive casino partner of the Tides.
The temporary casino would be housed at the stadium within the Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker Boxing and Fitness Center, which has been closed for about two and a half years, according to a Virginia Business article.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority leads the HeadWaters Resort & Casino project. Pamunkey executives told the planning commission that the temporary facility will have about 625 slot machines and electronic table games.
The article said that the center’s first floor would house the casino and the second floor would include casino space and a high-end sports bar and grill.
Developers plan to spend $175,000 to upgrade kitchen equipment at a nearby restaurant in addition to constructing a tent and temporary office space nearby that would be removed later after the temporary casino is closed. Smoking will not be allowed inside the facility, which will be open 24 hours and monitored by a staff of 45 security officers.
The tribe hopes to obtain a license from the Virginia Lottery Commission on July 20, according to the Virginia Business story.
Rodney Ferguson, executive vice president of the Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority, told the planning commission it would take six months to complete construction, then hire and train an anticipated staff of 275 employees. The casino’s goal is to hire 90% of employees locally, with 50% being minorities, officials said.
The permanent HeadWaters Resort & Casino will include a convention hotel, onsite restaurants, an entertainment venue, spa and pools. In September 2021, the Pamunkey Tribe named Newport News-based construction company W.M. Jordan Co. and Suffolk Construction as the general contractors to build the casino. The 300-room hotel, casino and entertainment project, set to open in 2024, is expected to bring about 2,000 construction jobs.
The temporary casino request now goes to Norfolk’s city council in June for approval.
Bricks-and-mortar casinos are the only option for wagering on table games and so forth in the state because there are no real money online casino options in Virginia.
However, online Virginia sports betting has been a thriving market since it launched in January 2021.
Hard Rock Scrambles For Staff And Housing
Virginia's first temporary casino, Hard Rock Bristol, is scheduled to open within the next 50 days. The company is in the midst of hiring 700 workers for the initial phase. Local vendors will be critical to the casino’s success, Hard Rock Bristol President Allie Evangelista told an audience on Wednesday at a Southwest Virginia Economic Forum. Hard Rock needs breadmakers, groundskeepers, restaurants, bedding suppliers, and more, Evangelista said.
Hiring efforts to staff the Bristol casino are ongoing, but some workers who want to relocate are struggling to find housing, Evangelista said Wednesday.
“We’re feeling the housing (crunch) right now. Eleven executives moved with me to the area. We are all looking for houses, or we’ve purchased, or we’re waiting, or we are renting,” Evangelista said. “The truth is there is a housing shortage for every level.”
The latest U.S. Census report, from 2020, shows Bristol has a population of 17,219, a 3.5% decline since 2010. Norfolk's population of 242,803 has declined by 2% (4,798 residents) for the same period.
Virginia cities Danville and Portsmouth also passed casino referendums in November 2020 by large margins. A fifth city, Richmond, will vote on a casino proposal for a second time during the upcoming November election after rejecting it in 2021.