Casino Group Eyes Vacant Virginia Mall
Although casino gambling is illegal in Virginia, the new owners of the vacant 450,000 square foot Bristol Mall want to turn it into a casino resort. The group, headed by Clyde Stacy, hired lobbying and public relations firm Alliance Group Ltd., based in Richmond. An electronic sign on the property already reads, “We’re betting on Bristol!”
Alliance Group President and Chief Executive Officer Rob Jones said, “We want to bring jobs to the city and the region. The team is excited to grow the economy across Southwest Virginia.” Jones said the project could create up to 2,000 “good paying” jobs.
Jones said in addition to a casino, the complex would offer multiple entertainment options and restaurant. He said a study showed the resort could attract 80 percent of its visitors from outside Virginia.
Bristol City Manager Randy Eads said the city council has been working with the group for the past three months. He stated he has had positive feedback from most city council members. Eads added now is the time for Virginia to approve casino gambling, since it has been losing tax revenue to other states where it’s legal. He also noted casino tax revenue could help the city’s large budget debt, with many residents living in poverty.
State Senator Bill Carrico, who opposes casino gambling, said gaining approval from lawmakers could be a challenge. He said he would prefer a city-wide referendum on gambling before the issue reaches the legislature.
Bristol Mayor Kevin Mumpower said, “I’ve not had a single conversation about it, but on the surface, I think it sounds positive, obviously if the state approves legislation. I don’t know what the prospects of the legislators backing it are.”
He added, “We’re one of the few states that does not have approved gambling, so there is a lot of infrastructure the state would have to set up, like regulations, the tax rate, permits. I haven’t taken the temperature of most people in the community, but I think most people would support it as long as it’s done properly and regulated. I think most would be OK with it.”
Councilman Bill Hartley noted, “From a conceptual idea, it’s definitely thinking big, thinking outside the box. The real hurdle is going to be getting it through the General Assembly.” Councilman Neal Osborne added, “I’d like to see exactly what the plans are, but, on the face of it, it’s a big opportunity and kind of a game-changer long term. It could be a lot of tax revenue and a lot of jobs created, and I’m not opposed to that. We have to see if the positives outweigh the negatives. From what little I know, it seems like they probably will.”
Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Beth Rhinehart said a casino could help the city, which is going through “a very unique financial quandary right now.” She noted, “It’s going to take some of those out-of-the-box ideas to be brought to the table and be implemented to get it back on steady feet. Not focusing just on casino dollars, I think of the complement it could provide to the speedway or Bristol Rhythm & Roots and our music heritage or outdoor recreation. It would, without question, be a draw not only in itself but as a complement to those other things.”