Casino operator Hard Rock International (HRI) has signed a contract to operate a Virginia gaming venue, supposing legislators approve such activity within the state’s borders.

HRI announced on Monday, a partnership with Bristol Resort and Casino, an enterprise led by Virginia businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, which has been trying to build a gaming venue in the southwest part of the state on the site of the closed Bristol Mall since mid-2018. Now the venue plans to operate under the Hard Rock Casino Bristol name.

Virginia is of the few US states which haven’t still authorized full-fledged commercial casino gambling within its borders, though the Virginia Racing Commission this spring allowed racetracks operated by Colonial Downs to start offering ‘historical’ or ‘instant’ racing machines, which use virtual racing to imitate the mechanics of slot machines.

As mentioned on the website, Virginia’s legislature also approved a study bill on the potential fiscal and social impact of authorizing up to five casinos in particular cities, including Bristol. Now the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee has issued its “appropriately conservative” findings, which reveal that the state could gain $262m in annual tax revenue if all five cities open casinos, assuming a 27% tax on gaming revenue.

The auditors added that this number would be $155m higher if legislators were to approve a sixth casino in Northern Virginia, whereas an additional $84m could come from permitting online gambling and a further $55m from legal sports betting. Although the Bristol backers have sworn to have their casino active within 24 months, the auditors indicated a four-year timeline was more probable, as individual host cities would have to hold referendums and the state would need to make regulations.

As for the possible downsides of casino authorization, the biggest losers would be Colonial Downs’ racinos, say the auditors, which could take a $40m annual hit, perhaps undermining the racinos’ plans to increase live racing. Also, the state lottery would possibly see its annual revenue drop by around 3.6%. The auditors said however, the economic impact on casino host cities would be positive, although modest, given forecasts that casino jobs could offer wages below local medians.

HRI is operated by Florida’s Seminole Tribe and has been lately on an expansionist tear, including its attractive new venue in its home state and a positive launch in Atlantic City. Also, HRI is one of two finalists for the single casino license at Greece’s huge Hellinikon integrated resort project.

Hud Wafiq Ganem is a gambling industry pioneer. He is the founder of and his yearly gambling industry predictions and analysis are respected and adhered to by veterans and novices alike.
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