Va.'s First Casino May Be Headed to Norfolk

Roulette on the Elizabeth River? It may become a reality if the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and Norfolk agree to terms for a resort and casino to be built on the city’s waterfront.

A rendering of the proposed project. Photo: Jay Smith.

A rendering of the proposed project. Photo: Jay Smith.

Pamunkey Indian Tribe project spokesman Jay Smith says the casino and resort would be located on a roughly 20-acre waterfront property adjacent to Harbor Park, home of Norfolk’s Triple-A Tides baseball team. The land is situated on the east and south sides of the ballpark.

In addition to gaming, Smith says the proposed development would offer guests a luxury spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and an entertainment venue.

The tribe and the city of Norfolk are currently in negotiations, and Smith expects an announcement regarding the potential agreement to be made in the “very near future.” Billionaire entrepreneur and investor Jon Yarbrough would provide financial backing for the venture, to the tune of $700 million, according to an early project announcement made before Norfolk was chosen as the location.

The project was initially estimated to create 3,000 to 5,000 construction jobs, 4,000 full-time positions, and an annual indirect economic impact value of $1 billion. Smith says exact numbers for the Norfolk project aren’t yet available because negotiations are ongoing, but something of a similar scale could be expected for the Harbor Park location.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, whose reservation is in King William County, received federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 2016. It was the first tribe in the Commonwealth to receive such recognition, which allows the potential for gaming endeavors.

For the project to be approved, the BIA must determine that the land is part of the tribe’s ancestral territory, as Smith explains it. He says the Pamunkey frequented the region, including fishing in the Chesapeake. “We feel very confident that Norfolk will meet that standard,” Smith says of the BIA requirement. In addition to BIA approval, the casino project must also make an agreement with the neighborhood, and receive state gaming approval.

The casino development is just one of the economic development ventures that the Pamunkey tribe is considering to help secure its future, says Smith. Others include a cultural museum or assisted living facilities.

In an announcement from his office, Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander said the Pamunkey tribe’s choice in location speaks to the appeal of southern Virginia as an attraction hub for visitors:

“The tribe's decision validates Norfolk as an emerging destination for tourism in the mid-Atlantic, and the center for entertainment in Hampton Roads,” the mayor says.

Pamunkey Indian Tribe Chief Robert Gray said in a statement that the tribe has roots that extend into Hampton Roads, where it hopes to create an added tourist draw. “Throughout the tribe's history, ancestors of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe have lived, farmed, and hunted across much of central and eastern Virginia. That land includes what is now known as Norfolk,” said Chief Gray. “After a long process to find the perfect site for our resort and casino, we believe we have found that location on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk.”

“This is going to be an attraction that people from all over the East Coast will come to even if they're not interested in gaming,” Smith says. “It is not just a win for the tribe, not just a win for Norfolk, but really the entire Hampton Roads region.”

-Laura Adams Boycourt

Another casino/resort rendering. Photo: Jay Smith

Another casino/resort rendering. Photo: Jay Smith

Laura Boycourt