Casino controversy forces Norfolk city leaders to listen

Posted at 11:21 PM, Nov 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-26 23:35:32-05

NORFOLK, Va. - While the City of Norfolk pushes for a casino to be built on the Elizabeth River, one local group is trying to overturn that decision.

Conceptual rendering and may not reflect final design.

The organization is called Citizens for an Informed Norfolk, and they are hoping to convince the Norfolk City Council to vote against the proposed casino.

On Tuesday, they submitted a petition filled with more than 3,000 signatures, which is nearly three times more than they needed to start the process.

The City Charter required an amount of 1,250.

Petitioner Jackie Glass said there needs to be more clarity and discussion before moving forward any further.

"Most of us are looking at this like, 'Okay, well we should know more before we decide to flat-out go into a tribal casino and move forward with this deal.'"

The petition requests that the Norfolk City Council initiate an ordinance to repeal the casino ordinance it approved during a vote on September 24 after the Pamunkey Indian tribe and the city agreed to develop a resort hotel and casino on city land at Harbor Park.

If the council doesn't budge on their original vote or chooses not to take action, a third petition could be made.

If so, the group will have nine months to collect 4,000 signatures. It's an outcome Glass doesn't want to see, but it's one she anticipates.

"I'm going to ask that all the things be taken into consideration, but my expectation is that we'll probably at the top of the year be going back to get 4,000 signatures to force a referendum," she said.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander reiterated that no contract has been signed and no land has been sold. He said since the beginning, there has been a lot of "misinformation" spread about the project.

He said they will go forward taking into account many different factors, such as environmental impact and transportation studies, "[also] knowing the project could change because of the market, because of the General Assembly and because of the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

During the meeting, Alexander did, however, bring forward a resolution creating a committee for gaming. It's a committee that councilwoman Andria McClellan said she didn't know about until the meeting started.

McClellan has been vocal against the process and was the only council member who voted against it in September.

"I'm disappointed that this is the first time that I'm seeing this, I have to say, and I'm not sure why we didn't discuss this previously," she said.

Alexander said the committee had been discussed publicly before Tuesday's meeting and that a citizen was the one who brought the idea forward.

He said, "The resolution was in everyone's folder. Everyone received it at the same time."

Not everyone in the crowd was against the process or the casino and resort.

One gentleman said, "I am also with full support of a potential Pamunkey Casino Resort. This has become a modern day derailment of not having the casino or this tribe."

In a statement to News 3, Spokesman for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe Jay Smith said:

"The Pamunkey Tribe’s commitment to building a casino in Norfolk has never been stronger, and we’re eager to get started. We understand that there will be two community meetings to better inform the public about this project, and we will watch them with interest. We look forward to building on our partnership with Norfolk and our shared vision to build a world-class resort and casino along the Elizabeth River.

It’s unfortunate that Ms. McClellan cherry-picked pieces of the JLARC report that support her anti-Pamunkey project agenda while conveniently leaving out facts which are counter to her position. It is worth noting that many of the JLARC figures cited by Ms. McClellan are conservative projections and based on commercial operators while the Tribe is going to operate their resort and casino in a manner differently than how commercial operators will. An example of that is salaries, where our employees can anticipate to make more at a tribal casino than they would at a commercial casino.”

Two public hearings on whether or not to sell the land have been set. The first will be December 16, and the second will be on December 19. Both meetings will be held at 6 p.m.