The Virginia Lottery Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a casino gaming operator’s license for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol, the state’s first casino, with a temporary property scheduled to open on July 8.
Wednesday’s 7-0 vote followed a two-hour presentation by officials of Hard Rock International and representatives of HR Bristol, LLC, who outlined the plans and expectations for the Bristol project and answered a wide array of questions from board members.
The HR Bristol’s project is a joint effort by Hard Rock International; The United Company and its Chairman Jim McGlothlin; Par Ventures and its President Clyde Stacy. The temporary casino with gaming and dining options will be located in part of the former Bristol Mall. The full Hard Rock casino, hotel and resort are now slated to open in the summer of 2024.
“Securing the license is the culmination of a five-year process that began as a brainstorming session between McGlothlin and Stacy after Stacy’s efforts to lure businesses and industry to the vacant former mall encountered little success,” United Company President and CEO Martin Kent told the board, as reported by Bristol Herald Courier.
The casino project required legislation supported during two consecutive sessions of the Virginia General Assembly followed by public referendums in the five cities chosen as possible sites because of economic hardships.
“We are excited by the Virginia Lottery Board’s action today granting a license to open Virginia’s first casino in Bristol subject to the completion of outstanding operational activities,” Jon Lucas, Chief Operating Officer of Hard Rock International stated. “We appreciate the Virginia Lottery’s assistance and diligence in working closely with our team over many months to reach today’s important milestone for Bristol, Southwest Virginia and the commonwealth.”
The temporary facility, dubbed ‘Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock,’ will feature 30,000 square feet of casino space with 870 slots, 22 table games, two restaurants, two bars, a sportsbook and Rock Shop retail site, Lucas said. It is expected to employ more than 600 people.
The $400 million Hard Rock facility is expected to employ more than 1,200 and offer patrons 1,500 slots, 55 table games, a 300-room hotel in phase one that can be expanded to 750 rooms, five restaurants, four bars and lounges, a sportsbook, and Hard Rock Live, and indoor venue for 2,300 that can be expanded for outdoor entertainment.
In November, Richmond became the only chosen Virginia city to vote down a proposal for a casino while Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk passed similar referendums in 2020, thus allowing gambling developments. The lottery continues to review application materials for three more proposed casinos in Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Bristol Virginia Mayor Anthony Farnum has been a key supporter of the casino project. “It’s so gratifying to go through all the steps, see the support for the local referendum that we had then to be able to say the first casino in Virginia is going to open right here in Bristol is really special,” Farnum said Wednesday. “I always thought it made sense to support this project because it means so many new jobs, new growth and new tax revenue for our city. It will really help put Southwest Virginia on the map.”
Hard Rock Chief Financial Officer John Eder told the board the parties have amassed about $130 million in cash for the project and plan to borrow the remainder. It will likely be on the bond market and noted Hard Rock has investment-grade ratings by two of the three major financial rating agencies, Eder said.
Hard Rock Bristol President Allie Evangelista addressed the board and introduced the other members of the Bristol executive team. They include Marc Deleo, vice-president of marketing; Pam Salas, vice-president of human resources; Mark Begrin, vice president of finance; Danny Jimenez, vice president of food and beverage and Mike Spatz, vice president of casino operations. Combined, they have nearly 100 years of experience in the gaming industry.
The lottery’s gaming compliance department will continue to work closely with Hard Rock Bristol as it prepares to open the temporary facility, said the lottery’s Deputy Executive Director of Gaming Compliance Gina Smith. “We will be on site at the casino over the next couple of months observing the receipt of gaming equipment, reviewing internal controls and ensuring full compliance with the regulations,” Smith said.
In an exclusive video interview with Evangelista earlier this month, she told Yogonet that Hard Rock Bristol is going to open with the new Hard Rock loyalty program that is being launched all over the world in hotels, cafes and casinos, called Unity. She also anticipated the company is working with Hard Rock Digital to have mobile sports betting in Virginia “much sooner than actually opening the doors for our gaming facility.”