In Virginia, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has reportedly agreed to terms that will see the organization develop and operate a proposed luxury casino resort in Washington County, according to an announcement this week by EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed.
The federally recognized tribe will partner with Steve Johnson of Johnson Commercial Development to transform a 350-acre tract owned by the commercial real estate developer. The land sits adjacent to The Pinnacle retail complex that Johnson developed across the Oklahoma border in Bristol, Tennessee.
According to News 5 WCYB, Sneed (pictured below) said…
“I have visited the site along I-81 and I am impressed with its strategic, gateway location that serves a five-state area.
“It is our wish to bring new tax revenue and jobs to Washington County and the Southwest Virginia region in a positive and impactful way.”
The development would reportedly include a luxury hotel with an indoor water park, a 15,000-seat outdoor concert venue and recreational facilities, along with the proposed casino.
The EBIC is already responsible for Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino, as well as Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Hotel and Casino both located in the tribe’s home state of North Carolina.
“Our agreement with Chief Sneed of the EBCI is an extraordinary opportunity to bring an experienced casino owner-operator to Washington County and the Southwest Virginia region.
“We look forward to working with the Cherokee Nation, local leaders, and elected officials in Richmond to bring this massive opportunity to fruition.”
Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randy Eads had the following to say about the proposal…
“This announcement today could hurt all of Southwest Virginia and that is something I do not want to happen. Southwest Virginia must work together and not against one another in order for true economic development to occur in our region,” as reported by the news agency.
According to news reports, the Seminole Tribe, through its Hard Rock International brand, is already part of a second proposal within a mile of the proposed site.
Both the Eastern Band and Hard Rock have extensive experience in gaming, however, both must wait on further action from the Virginia Legislature, which has yet to authorize gaming.
Senate Bill 1126 was signed into law on March 22, 2019, by Governor Ralph Northam (D). The bill allows for commercial casinos to be constructed in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, three economically challenged cities in the southeastern U.S. state. The law also paves the way for Pamunkey Indian Tribe-owned and operated casinos in Richmond and Norfolk.
The General Assembly must re-enact the legislation during its coming 2020 session and only certain cities meeting the criteria outlined in the bill would be permitted to add casino gaming. Additionally, regulations must be assembled by the Lottery Board by June 30, 2020, and a gaming license not issued before July 1, 2020.
After that, a local voter referendum would have to be held in each of the five towns so that the projects can be formally approved.