BRISTOL, Va. (AP) — Virginia's first casino has opened for business in a temporary space inside a former Bristol shopping mall.
The Bristol Casino will be open 24/7, offering 870 slots, 21 tables and a sportsbook. A line of customers wrapped around the building as they waited for Friday's grand opening, TV station WDBJ reported.
“We had to come and save my sister from spending all her money,” Christiansburg resident Cheryl Hubbard told the station. “And spend all of his,” she joked, pointing to her husband.
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly approved legislation to allow developers to build large casino resorts in five cities — Norfolk, Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville and Richmond — in what supporters billed as a way to boost struggling economies.
Potential operators had to first clear a voter referendum. That happened in every city but Richmond, which rejected the initiative last year. But city officials have mounted an effort to bring the issue back a second time.
Bristol voters overwhelmingly approved their referendum, and the project got its license earlier this year.
Developers eventually plan to open a $400 million resort and Hard Rock casino, with a hotel, restaurants, bars and lounges, and a concert venue. The full-scale project is expected to open in 2024 and employ 1,200 people.
The initial location has 600 employees, local news outlets reported.
State Sen. Louise Lucas, a Portsmouth Democrat who had long pushed to change Virginia law to allow for casinos, was on hand to celebrate, according to the Bristol Herald Courier.
“It’s like I’m having my own personal party because it’s taken so long,” she said. “I’m so excited for Bristol and I’m going to be ready for the party in Portsmouth in February.”