Pamunkey tribe announces proposal for Richmond casino resort

A rendering of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe's proposed casino resort in South Richmond. (Courtesy Pamunkey Indian Tribe)

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced Friday that it wants to build a $350 million casino resort in South Richmond, the latest addition to a growing list of potential gaming projects Virginia lawmakers must consider as they weigh bills to legalize gambling.

In a news release, the tribe said it is in the process of acquiring 36 acres of land in Manchester along Ingram Avenue, where it intends to build a 275-room hotel with “stunning views of the James River and downtown.”

“We are very excited about our plans to bring a great resort and casino to Richmond,” said Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray. “Not only does this help fulfill the government’s intent to use gaming to help us secure our future, but it will also be a great economic boost for the City of Richmond and its citizens.”

The tribe is already pursuing a casino project in Norfolk and it will continue to do so. But legislation that passed the General Assembly last year also tentatively gave the tribe rights to pursue gambling projects in Richmond, closer to the tribe’s reservation in King William County.

Unlike other would-be operators, the federally recognized tribe could also pursue casino construction through a lengthy federal process with or without the state’s blessing.

As they consider legalizing casinos, Virginia lawmakers have eyed five specific localities: Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol. Before any casinos could be built, the General Assembly has to pass a bill again this year and residents of each locality would be able to weigh in on the issue through voter referendums.

Two casino projects have emerged near Bristol, one being spearheaded by a group of local businessman and the second proposed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

If the Pamunkey Tribe were to win approval for projects in Norfolk and Richmond, it would presumably be the dominant casino operator in Eastern Virginia, where it traces its history back more than 10,000 years.

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday how the proposal would be received by Richmond leaders.

“The mayor is excited about the opportunity to bring a resort-style casino to Richmond,” said Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “We’ll wait to see what happens in the General Assembly and what it means for the city.”

With numerous players vying for casino rights, how lawmakers choose to craft the legislation could determine which projects move forward and which do not.

The Pamunkey Tribe has never operated a casino before, so it’s not clear how their proposals would fare in a competitive bidding process. The tribe has partnered with Tennessee billionaire Jon Yarbrough — who has a history in the tribal casino industry — to pursue its development plans after winning federal recognition in 2015.

The prospect of a casino in South Richmond could pose a threat to Colonial Downs Group, which opened a horse-racing-centered gambling parlor off the Midlothian Turnpike last summer. That facility, Rosie’s, features hundreds of historical horse racing machines, which look and feel like traditional slot machines.

A rendering of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe's proposed casino resort in South Richmond. (Courtesy Pamunkey Indian Tribe)
A rendering of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s proposed casino resort in South Richmond. (Courtesy Pamunkey Indian Tribe)