Pamunkey Indian Tribe Submits New Plan for Temporary Casino in Norfolk

Pamunkey Indian Tribe Submits New Plan for Temporary Casino in Norfolk
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe Gaming Authority delivered a new site plan to the City of Norfolk on Aug. 19 that aims to build a temporary casino between the Harbor Park baseball stadium and an Amtrak train station along Park Ave.

The temporary facility will be built on the same property where a much larger $500 million permanent facility will stand titled HeadWaters Resort & Casino. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe will own the casino.

An effort to place the temporary casino inside Harbor Park Stadium was shot down in July, forcing the tribe to select a new location.

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“Pursuant to the direction we received from City Council in July, the tribe committed to delivering a [new] site plan on the temporary casino,” said Jay Smith, spokesman for HeadWaters Resort & Casino. “The tribe is now working diligently with the city on the permanent site plan and land conveyance, which in turn will allow us to begin construction. The tribe is excited and ready to start building.”

The temporary casino will be 45,000 square feet and one-story (35 feet) tall. It will have a restaurant with food service and alcohol, Smith said.

“We plan to have a combination of slot machines and table games but have not finalized how many of each,” Smith said in an email to BetVirginia. Pamunkey executives told the planning commission in May the scrapped temporary facility inside the stadium would have about 625 slot machines and electronic table games.

This will be the second temporary casino to open in Virginia. Entertainment company Hard Rock International opened their Bristol Casino in July, a 30,000 square feet facility 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.

HeadWaters still needs to get permits approved and receive final approval from the City Council to start construction.

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Norfolk Residents Stay Ready

HeadWaters Resort & Casino won city approval with an overwhelming majority of residents voting in favor of the project in November 2020. Virginia online casinos have not been legalized, though five casinos are permitted under Virginia's state gaming laws.

“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, in July. "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 taxpayer expense.”

The request to build the casino inside Harbor Park was approved by the Norfolk Planning Commission in May.

However, issues were raised about the site of the proposed initial gaming facility.

Slowly But Surely

“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 in July.

Thompson told City Council members the new location next to the stadium will allow for more square footage and will result in a lot more revenue back to the city and to the schools.

“The tribe could open the temporary building as early as March of 2023,” officials said in July.

“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.

The permanent HeadWaters casino is expected to open in 2024.

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Keith Stein is a Virginia-based writer for who covers sports betting and casinos.

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