In Virginia, the City of Norfolk on Monday signed a $10 million agreement with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for the purchase of 13.4-acres of land to be used for the development of a waterside resort casino.

Also signed by both the city and the tribe, a development agreement will help to facilitate regulation of the partnership during the casino’s development on the east side of the Harbor Park stadium in downtown Norfolk on the Elizabeth River.

Official signing:

According to CBS-affiliated television station WTKR News 3, Norfolk City manager Dr. Larry “Chip” Filer said in a recently released statement…

“I am pleased to announce that we have reached mutually agreeable terms with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to pursue a resort project that will conform and comply with commercial gaming legislation being considered in Virginia.”

The signing on Monday comes after over a year of negotiation between the City Council and the tribe, with the former first discussing the project in August 2018 and announced that December. After more that a year’s worth of consideration, on September 24, 2019, the Norfolk City Council voted to grant the city manager authority to execute both the option-to-purchase agreement and the developmental agreement with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Tribal vs commercial:

According to Councilwoman, Andria McClellan, the benefits of opening a casino under commercial gambling laws instead of waiting on federal approvals for a tribal casino means that…

“The city would be able to have the income from local taxes, from lodging taxes, from meals and beverage taxes from sales taxes, from admission taxes and property taxes.”

However, before the city and state could begin to reap the benefits the General Assembly first has to legalize gambling in Virginia during its next session from January 8 – March 7, 2020. If and when that happens, “it would be required to have a referendum city-wide in November and at that point the voters can have their say whether or not the city should have a casino,” McClellan said.

Key terms of the Option to Purchase Agreement reportedly include:

  • Payment to the City of $100,000 per year of the Option Term;
  • A term of three years, with the ability to extend the Option Term for up to two additional terms of one year each;
  • A full-value purchase price of $750,000 per acre (totaling more than $10 million), based on an appraisal of the land by an independent third-party appraisal firm approved by both the Tribe and the City;
  • A provision whereby the Tribe must have been given the right to conduct commercial gaming before the land may be purchased; and
  • Required minimum standards with regard to the size, design, and construction of the resort and casino.

Key terms of the Development Agreement include:

  • A requirement that the Tribe complete the project within a to-be-determined amount of time
  • A commitment to negotiate a “Construction and Use Covenant” to govern and regulate the construction and use of the property, including compliance with Virginia Statewide Building Code;
  • A requirement that the Tribe pay for all costs associated with transportation infrastructure, flood mitigation, offsite utility improvements, and any other infrastructure improvements directly necessary for the project; and
  • A commitment to pay for construction of the Elizabeth River Trail through or around the project

Commenting on the signings, Pamunkey Indian Chief Robert Gray said…

“The signing of these agreements makes it official – we are partners with Norfolk to bring a world-class resort and casino to the region. I want to thank the Mayor, those members of Council who have supported our project, the City Administration and the thousands of people in Norfolk who have welcomed this project with excitement.  We can’t wait to get started,” as reported by WTKR News 3.

In addition to a four-diamond, full-service convention hotel, according to the statement, the proposed Pamunkey Resort & Casino is to include several onsite restaurants, an entertainment venue, a luxury spa, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The development is moreover expected to create thousands of construction and ongoing full-time jobs and to attract millions of visitors a year.

Lengthy process:

The tribe has modified its plans in an attempt to be involved in current General Assembly deliberations regarding possible casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, which were included in Substitute Senate Bill 1126 signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in March 2019.

With the possibility of the federal process for a tribal casino taking years, by the time the tribe’s project would be ready to proceed, other casinos would likely already be operating.