RICHMOND, Va. — Members of the General Assembly from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville urged their colleagues Monday to approve legislation to allow casino gambling in those cities. They said the plan would create jobs and boost the economy.
Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Bristol, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, joined delegates from each locality at a news conference to push for a state law authorizing casinos. They said that in seven years, such gambling operations could generate a total of nearly $100 million in local revenue and create about 16,000 jobs.
Under the legislation, a referendum would be held in each of the cities, and voters would have to agree whether to allow casinos to be built.
“This is an opportunity for not only us but for southwest and Danville to join forces and give the citizens a choice,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. “A choice to bring a revenue streak, to help pay for schools, give teachers raises and do the things we need to do.”
Republicans and Democrats from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville have partnered on the legislative initiative, saying their cities face similar financial problems.
“We’re struggling, and our economies are struggling,” Carrico said. “And for me, I want to see Bristol do well. But I also see that Sen. Lucas and Del. Marshall are struggling as well.”
The median annual household income is about $49,000 in Portsmouth, $38,000 in Bristol and $35,000 in Danville — far below the statewide median of $69,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the average household income in Fairfax County is more than $117,000.
“The city of Danville had two Fortune 500 companies that at one point had 60,000 jobs. We’ve had to close four schools in the area due to the lack of population,” Marshall said. “But Danville is working hard to rebuild, and we are having some successes.”
Four bills to authorize casino gambling have been introduced for this legislative session. They are SB 1126, sponsored by Lucas; SB 1503, proposed by Carrico; HB 1890, filed by James; and HB 2536, carried by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, who represents Bristol and surrounding counties.
While casino gambling bills have failed in the past, Lucas and Carrico said requiring community input through a referendum gives this year’s legislation the advantage needed to pass the General Assembly.
In a Q&A session, officials were asked about potential issues that could come from introducing casino gambling, such as crime and addiction. They said authorities would use tax revenues from casinos to address public needs like school facilities, law enforcement and social services.
“We’re going to appoint so much money to addiction abuse and public safety and keep it a safe, industrial way to produce revenue,” Carrico said. “This is a tightly regulated industry.”
At the news conference, legislators also were asked about religious objections some citizens have to casinos. The lawmakers said their proposals would impose regulations on the industry to safeguard the community.
Carrico, a religious man himself, met with pastors and said they were open to the suggestion of casinos. The religious leaders appreciated the ability to vocalize their concerns in the public referendum, the senator said.
Two Bristol businessmen plan to fund construction of the casino in the city.
Jim McGlothlin, CEO of the United Company, and Clyde Stacy, owner of Par Ventures, are long-time partners and coal barons. At the news conference, McGlothlin said the project will not need government funding. McGlothlin said the region’s economic problems are significant and need a ‘big, bold’ project to compete with neighboring states.
As a result, the legislation needs only to pass the General Assembly and garner majority support in a local referendum for the dice to start rolling.
Lucas said casinos are the most efficient way to pull Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol out of an economic rut.
“We just want to create economic development in these three parts of the state,” Lucas said. “It’s plain and simple.”
By Kathleen Shaw, Arianna Coghill and Katja Timm/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.