State lawmakers announce legislation to build casino in Portsmouth

Posted at 10:35 AM, Jan 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-14 16:37:43-05

RICHMOND, Va. - State lawmakers announced a unified effort to build casinos in Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol during a press conference on Monday morning.

Portsmouth Senator Louise Lucas is helping to lead the efforts. The lawmakers say those three cities face economic challenges and the casinos would help spur economic development and create jobs.

The legislation will need to pass the General Assembly and then Gov. Northam would have to sign it.

Mayor John Rowe said the city already has a site picked out and a developer selected, but they need legislation to pass in order to make it happen.

The casino would be built at the old Holiday Inn site next to the marina along the waterfront, Rowe said. It would require tearing down a nearby parking garage, which Rowe says is outdated. The Visitor Center would also have to be moved.

The developer is called Portsmouth Resorts, LLC, Rowe said. That's a partnership involving John Lawson from W.M. Jordan.

The legislation requires a referendum vote to see if people would actually support a casino coming to the city.

"These three different regions of the state deserve an opportunity to determine their own destiny," Sen. Lucas said. "We don't want to be left in the dust."

The Portsmouth facility would employ more than 2,000 people during the first year of operations and then more than 5,000 by year seven of the operation, according to a press release announcing the unified approach.

"You know what happens when you build a casino - everything blossoms around it," Lucas said.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe also has announced plans to try and build a casino near Harbor Park in Norfolk. That plan still faces several legal obstacles.

News 3 spoke with a spokesman for the Tribe. He says it's too soon to know if it's possible to have two casinos so close together, but he says the Tribe wants a seat at the table as discussions continue to bring a casino to Hampton Roads.