Hard Rock Bristol Off to Strong Start, Casino Achieving Virginia Gaming Economic Goals
Hard Rock Bristol in Virginia is reporting strong operating numbers since it made history in July by becoming Virginia’s first legal casino.
The temporary casino space located in the former Bristol Mall generated about $14.3 million in brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) in August 2022, its first full month in operation. That followed the casino winning $11.7 million in July. The casino opened on July 8.
Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is spending $400 million to build a casino resort next door to the Bristol Mall. The permanent facility is slated to open in the second quarter of 2024.
In the meantime, Hard Rock Bristol’s temporary casino space is off to a good start. Hard Rock Bristol officials told The Washington Post recently that the casino located just north of the Virginia-Tennessee border in the state’s southwestern enclave in the Appalachian Mountains has attracted 25,000 people from 49 states since its July debut.
Hard Rock Bristol currently has 870 slots and 21 table games. There is no on-site sportsbook, but Virginia allows online sports betting.
Casinos as Economic Stimulators
Virginia’s 2020 legalization of commercial casino gambling was tailored toward helping economically distressed towns create new jobs and tax revenue. The gaming bill allowed only cities meeting a host of criteria to ask their local residents if they support using a casino project as an economic stimulus.
Virginia lawmakers said only cities that experienced an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018, a poverty rate of at least 20% in 2017, and a population decrease of at least 20% from 1990 to 2016 can mull a casino. Bristol met those poor economic indicators and subsequently partnered with Hard Rock for the opportunity.
Bristol voters overwhelmingly backed the Hard Rock $400 million plan at more than 71%. That’s a higher rate of support than the three other cities in Virginia saw that held successful casino referendums during the 2020 election.
Danville voters backed their town’s $400 million undertaking with Caesars Entertainment with nearly 69% support. Locals in Norfolk backed a $500 million casino pitch from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and gaming billionaire Jon Yarbrough with 65% backing. And in Portsmouth, almost 67% of locals signed off on allowing Rush Street Gaming to build a $300 million casino.
Richmond was the only qualifying casino city to reject the gaming privilege, as 51% of capital residents opposed a $565 million bid from media conglomerate Urban One.
Coal Workers Find Casino
Bristol, Va., certainly isn’t a rich town. According to US Census Bureau data, Bristol in 2020 had a poverty rate of 22% — more than double that of Virginia as a whole. The former coal mining town also experienced a median household income of only $39,700 — just 52% of the statewide household average of $76,400.
Hard Rock officials say many of its new employees are former coal workers who lost their jobs in recent years. Local businessman Jim McGlothlin, who himself made his fortune in mining, helped lead the statewide fight to legalize casinos in struggling cities along with his longtime friend Clyde Stacey.
Casinos were something we never, ever thought about, but instantly I saw the real opportunity to have a business that would make sense and to take Bristol from where it is today to a big-time success,” McGlothlin explained. “If this works, we’re going to bring so many jobs to Bristol.”
Along with jobs, the casinos will bring new tax revenue to Virginia and the cities where the gaming properties operate. The state levies a 27% tax rate on gross gaming revenue — 10% of which stays in the casino’s host county.
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