First Virginia casino opens

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History was made in the state of Virginia late last week after the state’s first commercial casino opened for business.

The temporary home of Hard Rock Bristol opened its doors on Friday, July 8. Casino gambling was illegal in Virginia for more than a century before lawmakers changed their minds in 2020. That year Governor Ralph Northam signed into law new legislation that allowed commercial casino resorts to be opened in certain cities.

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Under the new law economically troubled towns and cities that met specific criteria could hold a referendum and ask their residents for permission to open a casino in the area. Bristol was one of five cities in the state that met the criteria for a referendum. Ballots were cast in November 2020 with 71 percent in favor of building a casino on land that once housed the now closed Bristol Mall.

Construction of the permanent Hard Rock Bristol is underway on the Bristol Mall site. It will include a 300-room hotel tower, a nearly 100,000 square-foot casino floor, restaurants and eateries, and a Hard Rock Cafe when it open in May 2024. The permanent casino will feature 1,500 slot machines, 55 table games and a retail sportsbook. Also included in the venue plans is a 2,000-seat indoor concert facility, and an outdoor amphitheater that will seat 20,000 people.

While construction continues on the permanent location a 30,000 square-foot temporary casino opened in what was a Belk department store last week.

The temporary casino features approximately 900 slot machines, 20 tables games, and a sportsbook. Also included in the temporary venue are food and beverage service, and a Hard Rock store.

Hard Rock Bristol is the first of four approved casinos that will open in Virginia. The other three casinos will be constructed in Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Danville. Richmond also received approval for a casino but voters rejected the proposal during the referendum vote.

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