BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – The Virginia General Assembly made provisions for legitimate casinos to open temporary operations for at least a year before permanent operations open. Though casino operators would have to be thoroughly vetted and licensed, the Virginia Lottery Board this week made it abundantly clear, the Hard Rock Casino Bristol would not be able to open by year’s end.

Last year, when the residents of Bristol, Virginia voted to approve a casino in their town, Hard Rock said a temporary casino would be expected to open by the fall of this year.

At a Virginia Lottery Board virtual meeting this week, Executive Director Kevin Hall outlined a timeline ruling out the possibility of such a temporary casino, at least through the end of this year.
The board this week voted to begin working on the final and permanent regulations casinos in Virginia would be expected to adhere to, saying applications for suppliers, vendors, and employees to get licensed by the Board.

“Again, as I just said that’s a very intensive, up to a one year process, suppliers and vendors have to be vetted and licensed. Every employee with access to a gaming area has to be fingerprinted and licensed. Temporary facilities, just like a permanent casino, have to have the same extensive surveillance and financial accounting systems in place before they can open for business, every slot machine, even in a temporary facility has to be linked to a central monitoring system. And that will require us to go through an RFP process,” Hall said during the meeting. “So we’re aware that at least one of the casino operators has expressed some eagerness to perhaps stand up, some temporary gaming. In fact they have publicly suggested temporary gaming could occur as soon as December of this year. Let me state for the record. In light of all of these steps that are required between now and then, that we believe temporary gaming as soon as this December is highly unlikely. Largely improbable next to impossible. I don’t know that I can be any more clear.”

Local businesses told News Channel 11 they are disappointed and added that they were counting on the influx of tourists promised by the temporary casino originally proposed by Hard Rock to open by the end of 2021.

But Southern Churn Owner Karen Hester said she is still optimistic for what the eventual casino opening will mean to Bristol, Virginia and the surrounding areas.

“Certainly it’s a disappointment, you know, we, we’ve been battling COVID and we’ve been restricted on visitors coming and certainly any kind of extra revenue at this time would be helpful to everybody’s bottom line, but I can certainly tell you we’re going to take it when we can get it for sure,” Hester said. “But, you know sooner than later, would that have been better, absolutely I think that would have been better for everybody and everybody’s book, but you know we’ll certainly take it when we can get it you know and it’s going to make a huge impact on Bristol and how exciting how many jobs it’s gonna produce some things like that so we’re looking for great things to come.”

As for the potential economic impact of the Hard Rock Casino Bristol not opening in any capacity in 2021, Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Beth Rhinehart said she does not think this will be too much of a setback.

“I know we’re all disappointed, it can’t happen yesterday, we know what’s coming, and we know it will be here, just might take a little bit longer, so my guesstimate would be just that the economic impact will be maybe not even delayed but just a little bit of a lag and what we see on that we know it’s coming, and the sooner the better,” Rhinehart said.

She added that even though Bristol residents had their hopes up for some sort of ribbon-cutting within 2021, that the anticipation is still building.

“We’re all very excited about the project, we know it’s going to have an incredibly positive impact, not just to the Bristol community but all across the region. So, we’re all anxiously awaiting for that,” Rhinehart said. “However, we do know that this process – the regulatory process that the lottery board is charged with creating – is a first for them, really in terms of casinos, so it’s a big step to have to take and they want to make sure and get it right, especially for the first one.”

In a statement to News Channel 11 Hard Rock officials said they “look forward to working with the Virginia Lottery to open our temporary casino as soon as possible.”

The Virginia Lottery Board this week began work on the permanent casino gaming regulations that Hard Rock Casino Bristol will have to adhere to. The Board said they hope to have those final regulations approved and finalized by June of next year, at the earliest.

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