Plan to Turn Bristol Mall into Casino Receives Pushback

Bristol Casino Plan - Virginia General Assembly Bristol Bill

Bristol Casino would need backing in the Virginia General Assembly, but it has scant support so far.

A recently publicized plan to turn Bristol Mall into a casino is receiving backlash from Bristol residents. Despite the proposed Bristol Casino’s public relations people claiming 80% of visitors would come from outside Virginia, Virginians in the state capital are opposing the Bristol Casino.

The state has an ambivalent attitude towards gaming, based on the damage it might do to the local community. That has not dampened enthusiasm among the group of old friends who are pushing the Bristol Casino — men with a long history of success in other businesses.

Clyde Stacy, the head of Bristol Resort and Casino, which acquired Bristol Mall earlier this year, confirmed that his group wanted to turn the space into a $150 million commercial casino. The development plan envisions turning the 540,000-square-foot retail center on Gate City Highway into a resort-style property.

The ultimate plan is to build a resort with a hotel, restaurants, shopping, entertainment and family attractions on the 49-acre site. While the plan has local support, it has so far received a cold reception at the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond.

Alliance Group Lobbying Effort

Bristol Resort & Casino is lobbying the Virginia General Assembly to gain approval for a casino license. The developers went to the General Assembly, because the Bristol Casino would need special legislation to be approved.

Public relations firm, Alliance Group Ltd., is overseeing the lobbying effort for the proposed development of the casino. Rob Jones, Alliance Group Ltd. president and CEO, said of the proposed Bristol casino, “We want to bring jobs to the city and the region. The team is excited to grow the economy across Southwest Virginia.”

80% of Customers from Outside Virginia

The plans for the closed shopping mall would provide gaming space in the mall’s walking areas, while the old food court would contain the food and beverage facilities. Given the new jobs the facility would create, Clyde Stacy and Jim McGlothlin imagined they would have support from locals. The two predict the casino would attract 80% of its visitors living outside the Virginia state lines.

Because Bristol is on the border with Tennessee, the backers believe most gamblers would cross the state line to gamble. With the potential to create more than 2,000 “good paying” jobs, Bristol locals could see a economic growth for their city. The plan has the support from Bristol’s City Council. Though concerns have been raised regarding gambling in the community, City Manager Randy Eads said he is working with the new owners of the former mall. Eads, who has been working on the project for three months, said that the majority of Bristol’s City Council members have given the idea positive feedback.

Eads assured that any and all concerns local residents may have regarding the casino proposal will be addressed with the mall owners. They hope to alleviate the issues in order to make for a smooth process going forward and to ensure the people have the best experience with the casino addition.

Virginia General Assembly Lukewarm

While the Bristol City Council might be eager and on-board, the casino proposal has met with rebuffs from the Virginia General Assembly. Casino gambling is currently illegal in the state and lawmakers have a history of turning down any proposal to change that.

Sen. Bill Carrico is among those opposed to the idea of the casino or the idea of casino gambling in the state all together. He believes the plan could some struggle getting through committee in Richmond – much less carrying the day in a floor vote. Carrico threw cold water on the idea, saying he doubted the proposal would see much success in the state legislature.

Bristol Leaders Push Casino Development

On the other side of the fence, Eads that said he think that now is the time for Virginia to makes its mark on casino gambling. The City Manager said that the state has been losing tax revenue to other states with legalized gambling for too long and that it was time for a change.

Sen. Caricco believes that the decision on whether or not to approve the casino proposal should be left up to the residents before the state Legislature makes any final decisions on it.

When asked about his support in the legislature, Carrico said, “They’ve put together a plan on how to do it but I haven’t really committed to doing anything. I really don’t know how you would do it. You’re talking about trying to carve out the city by using numbers like we did with the tax credit [legislation for The Falls], and I just don’t think that will work because so many localities want to do it, too. You had the Pamunkey Indian Tribe that’s looking to do a casino [in New Kent, Va.], so you’ve got to satisfy that.”

“Not One Dollar is Coming…from Bristol”

Jim McGlothlin, a childhood friend of Clyde Stacy’s who is partnering with Stacy on the project, said, “Not one dollar is coming from the city of Bristol, the state of Virginia or the federal government. Clyde and myself are going to put all the money up for this.”

“We’ve been blessed to be big winners in some of our businesses — and we could be big winners, as well, don’t get me wrong. But it would be a $30 million annual income for the city of Bristol, not counting the gambling tax. It would be like manna from heaven.”