Norfolk City Council Chooses the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as the Preferred Waterfront Casino Operator

Yesterday, the Norfolk City Council had a vote on the choice of the preferred operator of a local casino. It was the Pamunkey Indian Tribe that was selected by the City Council to operate the proposed waterfront resort and casino.

The vote took place after the Tribe and Norfolk City Council entered into an agreement in September 2019. It was held as part of the required process for the selection of a preferred casino operator that had been prescribed by the Virginia General Assembly.

Now, the City Council will have to notify the Virginia Lottery for the choice it made, and the Lottery will be given up to 45 days to carry out a preliminary review to decide whether the two parties can move forward to seek a public ballot in November.

According to preliminary estimates, the waterfront casino and resort project would bring gaming and sales-related taxes of between $26 million and $31 million to the City of Norfolk. The funds can be used by city authorities to fund education projects, infrastructure and other key services. Apart from that, the establishment is expected to bring an estimated 6.2 million visitors every year, 4.8 million of whom are set to be from outside of the city.

City Council’s Vote Took Place Amid Ongoing Controversy on the Right to Establish a Casino

As part of the deal agreed by the Norfolk City Council and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the Native American nation would be required to pay for all infrastructure, utility improvements and flood mitigation necessary for the casino resort construction.

The project, estimated to $500 million, is set to include a 300-room full-service hotel, a luxurious spa, various dining options and a massive entertainment venue with 2,500 seats, apart from the casino facility. It is set to create over 2,000 construction jobs and offer almost 2,500 full-time jobs when it becomes fully operational. The overall economic impact that the casino resort project is estimated to $754 million for the City of Norfolk, and $850 million for the Commonwealth.

Now, the Norfolk City Council voted 7 to 1 to choose the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as its preferred casino gaming operator, as required by gambling legislation of the state. The choice was made amidst an ongoing controversy on who has the right to establish a casino in the city. Several months ago, Cordish Companies, the operator of Waterside, threatened to take the city to court, citing a 2013 agreement under which Cordish was supposed to be exclusively supported to bring casino gaming to the city. In the agreement, there was a clause under which the company would have been allowed to expand its complex into a casino in case the state lawmakers decided to make gambling legal.

It is important to say that the current proposal is different from the one that was unveiled in the first place. The City Council also revoked a vote that took place in September 2019 under which the Pamunkey Tribe would have been allowed to establish a tribal nation, separate from the city, on the land.