As General Assembly Considers Casino Bills, Pamunkey Tribe Jockeys for Position with Two Locations

Jan 30, 2020

An artist's rendering of the proposed Richmond-area casino.
Credit Pamunkey Indian Tribe

The General Assembly has until March to decide on a host of bills to allow and regulate casinos.

The Pamunkey Tribe is wasting no time in positioning itself. This month, they signed an agreement with the city of Norfolk to potentially buy property for a commercial casino-resort along the Elizabeth River.  Then they announced plans for another tribal casino-resort in South Richmond near the James River.

In Norfolk, it took several rounds of negotiating and three public hearings to rework an agreement between the tribe and the city to build on a 13 acre industrial site. Most of the small group attending the final public

Pamunkey tribe member Kevin Krigsvold speaks at a public hearing in Norfolk in December.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

hearing were in support of the casino.

Kevin Krigsvold is a member of the Pamunkey Tribe who lives in Norfolk. "For more than 400 years we've been diminished," Krigsvold explained.  "So, this is finally an opportunity for us to get a leg up and start building infrastructure, having job opportunities, health care opportunities, things like that. And Norfolk has actually been a part of our tribal history for a long time."

Phil Smith owns the Brick Anchor Brew-House in downtown. He says the city has allowed the area to become saturated with restaurants. His business makes its money as a venue for events, so he's anxious about competition. "This casino is just another competitor with another one, two, or three restaurants and

Business owner Phil Smith speaks at a public hearing in Norfolk.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

a captive audience that is really just taking money from those who may otherwise have spent that money in a small business."

In South Richmond, the tribe has four parcels of land purchased or under contract and plans to build a tribal casino-resort on some 36 acres in an industrial area of Manchester also known as Dog Town.

Lawrence Olds is a Richmond real estate broker who says the area is perfect for businesses.  "Manchester has experienced and is still experiencing an amazing major rebirth. There's a neighborhood feel about Manchester that didn't exist 15 years ago," Olds says.  "The accompanying shops and stores and all of the infrastructure you see in a community that is about to turn the corner has happened in Manchester."

This is good news for the tribe whose first proposed location in New Kent County, between Richmond and Williamsburg, was rejected.  It then faced hurdles in Norfolk that forced it to downsize the project and switch to a commercial casino rather than tribal after a year of negotiating.

Jay Smith is a spokesman for the tribe.  "And the Richmond one we still maintain and are still holding the flexibility that we could go either way with that. If the state allows commercial we could go the commercial route and if not we could go the federal route."

If they decide to set up as a tribal casino the Pamunkey don't have to wait for the General Assembly to approve casinos to operate in the state and receive federal tax and regulatory breaks. But the federal process is a lengthy one and often takes longer than the commercial route.

The tribe is also closely watching the General Assembly to see what tax rate legislators will set for casinos. "We're just kind of like in a holding pattern until March to see what comes out of the legislature," Jay Smith notes.

And breathing down the tribe's neck is potential competition by another commercial casino in the works, just up the road in Portsmouth.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.