he first of two public hearings on the proposed resort casino kicked off on Monday in Norfolk, Virginia. The new Committee for Gaming will have a second hearing on Thursday.
Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander announced a major change in the city’s path to develop a casino — they are no longer to looking to have the Pamunkey Indian Tribe establish a sovereign nation within its limits. Instead, the Pamunkey Indian Nation would follow the same process that Portsmouth is following in its quest to bring gaming to Hampton Roads — one being driven by the state, according to Councilman Tommy Smigiel.
In September, all council members except councilwoman Andria McClellan voted to enter into an agreement that would eventually allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to buy land hear Harbor Park for the casino.
However, a group called “Citizens for an Informed Norfolk” has pushed back, saying they are against the way council went about the deal. In November, they submitted a petition before Norfolk City Council to repeal the original casino ordinance. They gathered more than 3,000 signatures which was enough to force a re-vote.
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.
“After the JLARC study and realizing that the scope of the project will change the commercial route [it] makes more sense for both the Pamunkey Tribe and the City of Norfolk,” Smigiel wrote on his Facebook page Monday night, Wavy.com reports.
The Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) study Smigiel was referring to found that Norfolk and Portsmouth would likely have to scale back their original casino proposals because of market competition.
The Pamunkey Tribe’s original design was billed to be as much as $700 million, but is now expected to be around $200 million, Alexander said. The mayor said to now expect about 1,000 jobs, instead of 3,500.
As it stands, casino gaming is currently illegal in the commonwealth. The bill to change that, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would allow only the cities of Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Richmond to host casino gaming if the bill passes and is subsequently approved by voters in each individual city.
The public hearing was being held in the first place because petitioners were successful in forcing City Council to vote on an ordinance to repeal their September land sale agreement for the casino site. Citizens for an Informed Norfolk say they were against the way council went about the deal.
With the mayor’s announcement, the agreement reached in September will have to be amended. Norfolk would no longer have a guarantee of a 4-percent cut of all gambling revenues coming back to the city.