Virginia is one of the few states in the US with no casino whatsoever. Now, two high school classmates from Bristol want to change that.
Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy want to transform the shuttered Bristol Mall into a sprawling entertainment complex. The two businessmen are lobbying the Virginia General Assembly to allow a 100,000 square-foot casino as part of the development.
The winds of change might be blowing in Old Dominion
On its face, the notion that a traditionally anti-gambling state might allow a casino is a dodgy proposition. However, there are signs that things may be changing in Virginia.
In April 2018, lawmakers approved HB1609, which will allow Virginia residents to wager on historical horse races. These sorts of wagers occur on machines similar to a typical slot machine.
The state’s lone (and currently defunct) racetrack, Colonial Downs, will soon be home to 3,000 of these machines. Colonial Downs will also reopen for 15 live races next year.
For McGlothlin, who is lobbying state legislators to sponsor a casino bill, the issue is about fairness and opportunity. He told Virginia Business:
“[Passing HB1609] was done to help the equestrian groups. Surely, you would want to help a struggling city.”
McGlothlin may find some sympathetic ears in the General Assembly. Last week, Del. Marcus Simon indicated that he plans to introduce a bill in January that would legalize sports betting in the Commonwealth.
That area of Virginia could certainly use a win
McGlothlin and Stacy’s plans are borne from a desire to lift up their struggling hometown.
Bristol straddles the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. Along with its Tennessee counterpart, the town has struggled economically as the coal industry has declined. In July, Bristol Compressors announced that its factory would close and leave 468 Bristol residents unemployed.
For McGlothlin and Stacy, who purchased the mall after its last tenant left in 2017, a casino would be “a mix of great opportunity and fun.” They envision a complex that, in addition to a casino, features the following amenities:
- Water park
- Live entertainment venue
- Go-kart track
- Conference center
The ambitious plan comes with a hefty $150 million price tag. However, an economic study McGlothlin commissioned estimates that the development could create 2,000 jobs and generate $567 million in economic impact.
Reaction from others in the area has been mixed. Bristol’s Vice Mayor, Kevin Wingard, opined that the development has the potential to turn the entire region’s fortunes around.
There are others who worry about the impact on a population that is already economically vulnerable, though. As Rev. Dewey Williams of Belle Meadows Baptist Church says,
“You’re doing this on the backs of people who will lose $30,000 and $40,000 they don’t have.”
For McGlothlin’s part, he hopes that he can get a bill on the schedule during the next legislative session. Perhaps Virginia’s lawmakers will survey the changing landscape, and decide that Virginia should not be left behind.