Temporary casino gaming unlikely in Virginia before April 2022

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BRISTOL — No temporary casino is likely to operate in Virginia before April 2022, according to Kevin Hall, executive director of the Virginia Lottery.

Backers of the planned Hard Rock Bristol Hotel & Casino have expressed their intent to host a temporary gaming site in part of the Bristol Mall — possibly as soon as late next year — while much of the planned $400 million makeover occurs elsewhere on the property.

Speaking last week via Zoom before members of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee, Hall said lottery attorneys are currently developing casino gaming regulations that are expected to be finalized next April.

“We think it is highly unlikely that even an operator seeking a temporary permit would actually be operating casino gaming until April 2022 at the earliest,” Hall said in response to a question by Del. Will Morefield, R-N. Tazewell.

Casino legislation includes a provision for a temporary operation but only after an applicant has been licensed and all background checks completed, Hall said.

Voters in Bristol and three other Virginia cities earlier this month approved casino gaming, and the Bristol casino, hotel and resort are expected to open in late 2022.

Speaking with reporters on Election Day, Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said a temporary operation is being considered.

“There are no definitive plans of when that could happen, but we certainly are receptive to the idea — obviously get people jobs and start creating some tax dollars and opportunities for local residents,” Allen said.

The Hard Rock Bristol project is forecast to create up to 2,000 jobs and generate millions in annual tax revenues for the city and other Southwest Virginia localities.

Lottery attorneys are currently developing the casino regulations with a deadline to present the draft version to the Lottery Board in February 2021 with approval by April 2021.

“We anticipate to be in a position to begin accepting the first casino license applications shortly after the initial regs take effect in April. Applicants must undergo an in-depth criminal and financial background investigation. Suitability investigations for casino operators and their key management personnel can take up to one year to complete, and there is a provision for that in the statute,” Hall told the committee.

“We anticipate the first casino operator licenses could be issued in the spring or summer of calendar year 2022. That feels like a long way off, but it’s within the timelines for actual construction on each of the proposed casino projects.”

Asked about temporary licenses, Hall said the same provisions apply.

“That [temporary licensing] would occur after the background vetting of the casino operator and their key management personnel, for which we are allowed up to one year,” Hall said. “Suppliers would also need to be vetted and licensed by the agency. That’s the companies providing slot machines, cards and dice, and any employees would also have to be vetted before a temporary casino could open.”

In addition, a temporary setting would still have to comply with all of the technical requirements of a full casino.

“I also would note temporary casino gaming — whether it’s in a tent or a vacant store — also would have a requirement to install cameras so all of the gaming activity could be monitored for safety, and all of the slot machines would have to be connected to a central gaming system so that activity could be monitored and audited,” Hall said.

Hall said the Lottery Board’s goal is to develop “clear and reasonable regulations.”

“We understand this is serious and important work, and we are focused intently on it,” Hall said. “We want to get this right from the very beginning, and I am confident we are off to a strong start.”

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