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Bristol voters give green light to new Hard Rock casino

Voters in Bristol, Virginia, sent a clear message on Election Day: They’re ready for a Hard Rock casino.

The choice on the Nov. 3 ballot was to either allow casino gambling — as approved by the Virginia Lottery Board — or not, with a “yes” or “no” vote.

Approval of the referendum was key for a proposed Hard Rock casino project to move forward.

The final margin was 71.14% (5,490 votes) in favor and 28.86% (2,227 votes) against.

Hard Rock and its partners United Co. and Par Ventures are ready to launch a $400 million expansion and renovation of the former Bristol Mall site, which closed in 2017.

It would include a casino, 300-plus room luxury hotel, indoor and outdoor entertainment space, restaurants, bars, a spa and a convention and meeting center. The casino would also feature an e-sports simulator – a form of multiplayer video game sports competition.

The site is located at 500 Gate City Highway. It would be the first such project in the state.

This rendering shows what a new Hard Rock project in Bristol, Virginia, would look like once completed. (Courtesy Hard Rock)

Country connection

In Bristol in mid-September, Hard Rock officials had unveiled a 3D model of the proposed hotel and casino, along with several pieces of country music memorabilia for the public to see.

The Virginia General Assembly and the Bristol City Council had previously authorized that voters would see the local gambling referendum on the ballot in November.

Bristol, Virginia, is the twin city of Bristol, Tennessee – just across the state line. It has been nicknamed the “birthplace of country music.”

Memorabilia pieces at the new Hard Rock development are expected to include country music legends Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Buck Owens and Hank Williams.

Bristol’s approval was by the largest margin of four gambling referendum’s that were approved in Virginia. The others were in Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

All four communities are considered to be struggling economically. The proposed projects in each (by different casino operators) are designed to spur local economies through new tax revenue from visitors. The projects will also create new jobs.

Hard Rock and its partners said in a statement that they were grateful for the strong support from Bristol voters.

“The final referendum result reflects the unified elected officials who fully embraced the project early on and voters confidence in the jobs and tax revenue the proposed resort will bring to Bristol,” the statement said.

Next steps

Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen spoke to local media after initial voting results came in.

“Obviously, with [an] over 70% majority of the citizens saying they support this entertainment complex, we’re hopeful there will be great acceptance at the local level to get all the additional approvals needed and moving forward,” Allen said. “Certainly, if those things come in a normal time frame and there is no issue whatsoever, the opening will be in the fourth quarter of 2022.”

Allen said that he thought it could be sooner, however.

The partners were expected to submit a gaming license application to the Virginia Lottery Board. The board has one year to make a decision on the application.

In the meantime, Allen has expressed interest in opening a temporary casino at the site, which is permitted for up to one year — with an option for a second year — once a gaming license is secured.

Closer look at the numbers

Hard Rock officials said they expect the project will eventually:

• Attract more than four million visitors each year.
• Create up to 2,000 jobs.
• Generate between $15 and $20 million in annual tax revenues for the city.
• Include millions more in gaming tax revenues for Bristol and 11 other Southwest Virginia localities.

There are Hard Rock venues in more than 70 countries. Its two most successful flagship properties are in Hollywood, Florida – where the world’s first Guitar Hotel opened in 2019, and in Tampa.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is the parent entity of Hard Rock International.

More is at hardrock.com.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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