NORFOLK, Va. – With hours to go until the polls open, voters in Norfolk will have one last chance to make their voices heard on whether or not to be a host city for a resort and casino.
Kezia Hendricks has already cast her ballot, voting no on the casino referendum. She said there should have been an independent study looking at the negative impacts of a casino.
“It just doesn’t make sense that the person that’s developing this casino are the same people that’s doing the study,” Hendricks said. “It wasn’t anything independent.”
As someone who works with at-risk youth, Hendricks is concerned a casino gaming resort will bring a surge in crime.
“I need to know what to prepare for,” she said. “There is no estimation on how it’s going to impact our Norfolk community, youth that are already vulnerable to crime.”
The proposed site is about 14 acres of land near Harbor Park along the banks of the Elizabeth River.
The casino would be operated by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.
The tribe’s spokesman Jay Smith said the project is expected to create 2,500 permanent jobs and attract more than six million tourists a year, creating an economic boom for Norfolk and the region.
“We know that when a family or people come to a casino for two or three days usually is what a visitor will come for, they don’t just stay in the hotel, in the casino,” Smith said. “They want to go out. Maybe they’re gambling during the day, or enjoying the spa in afternoon, but they may want to go out and check out restaurants downtown, they may want to go see other tourist attractions, check out the beaches, see all that Norfolk has to offer.”
Smith said the state would get $50 million in casino revenue every year for schools. Another $30 million would be generated annually in taxes paid to the host city of Norfolk.
“That’s money that could be used for streets, neighborhoods, schools, public safety - however the city wants to use that money,” he said.
But a grassroots group asking folks to vote against the casino isn’t convinced.
Jackie Glass is a member of the group called Informed Norfolk Referendum Committee.
“We’ve selected an operator that has no experience in gaming,” said Glass. “We’ve selected a location that isolates itself from the rest of the city and we got off on the wrong foot.”
Glass said there needs to be a concrete plan in place no matter what voters chose on Election Day.
“If it’s a yes vote, then what? What are the people, processes and policies that need to be put in place to ensure our city is successful and that we’re not just looking at revenue and forgetting about people,” she said. “If it’s a no, then we’re looking at the fact that we do need to develop as a city. That has to happen.”
A spokesperson for the City of Norfolk sent a statement about the process of the project up to this point.
“For more than a year, the city has posted information about the casino on its website,” said Lori Crouch. “In addition, there was nearly a two-year process that involved council meetings, public hearings etc. on the casino. The General Assembly required Norfolk to give preference to a federally designated tribe as a casino operator.”
If the casino measure passes on Election Day, the tribe is expected to buy the property from the city within the next couple of months. Smith said the tribe would buy the property at full market value, which he said is about $10 million. That money is expected to help renovate two city schools.
For more information about the casino project, click here.