Casino backers from Portsmouth to Bristol are joining together to boost the odds of loosening Virginia’s gambling laws.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are promoting pro-casino legislation, arguing that three struggling cities spread along Virginia’s southern border urgently need gambling to help to revive their economies.
Republican Sen. Bill Carrico and Democrat Sen. Louise Lucas led a Capitol news conference last week where they urged other legislators and Gov. Ralph Northam to allow developers in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth to build casinos if local voters approve.
Carrico and Lucas said casinos and resorts would provide the cities, which have struggled with the decline of coal, manufacturing and other industries, with more jobs and local tax revenue.
“Let this be our Amazon,” said Lucas, referring to the tech colossus’ plans to build a new 25,000-employee headquarters in northern Virginia.
Virginia is one of a handful of states that forbids casino gambling, but lawmakers have appeared more open to changing the law in recent years. Legislators are also weighing whether to allow Virginia to offer sports wagering.
Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing for a broad study that would put off any decisions, but supporters of gambling-related bills say there’s no need to wait.
The focus on gambling issues has led to a feeding frenzy for the state’s lobbyists, with a multitude of interests trying to influence how things go.
Here’s a look at some key players as gambling legislation moves forward:
The proposed Bristol casino would be built by businessmen Clyde Stacy and Jim McGlothlin, who made a fortune in the coal industry and contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers last year.
“It opens doors,” McGlothlin said of his large donations.
The developers of a proposed Portsmouth casino are unknown. Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe Jr. said the city has a prime spot picked out along the Elizabeth River and a developer lined up named “Portsmouth Resort LLC.”
Rowe and Lucas declined to say who owns the company. Business records show it was incorporated recently by attorney and former Del. Alan Diamonstein. He said he could not say who the owners are but said an announcement would be made soon.
No developers have yet been announced for a potential Danville casino.