Agreement On Potential Casino Along Tennessee-Virginia Border Reached

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced Tuesday it has reached an agreement to develop and operate a casino in Washington, Virginia, which is along the state’s border with Tennessee.

The 350-acre tract of land would be adjacent to The Pinnacle, which is a shopping center in Bristol, Tenn. The location along Interstate 81 is easily accessible from Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and the plan calls for an outdoor concert venue, a hotel with an indoor water park, and recreational facilities to be built in addition to the casino.

Agreement would give Cherokee group two casinos in area

“I have visited the site along I-81 and I am impressed with its strategic, gateway location that serves a five-state area,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement. “It is our wish to bring new tax revenue and jobs to Washington County and the Southwest Virginia region in a positive and impactful way.”

The partnership is with Johnson Commercial Development, which also opened The Pinnacle in 2014 with $150 mm in private investment. The casino would give the EBCI two casinos less than 100 miles apart as it operates Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in North Carolina, which features an 1,100-room hotel, 3,100-plus video gaming slots, 100-plus table games, and 20 poker tables.

The Cherokee Casino Resort is also awaiting approval to open its sportsbook after sports betting was made legal by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in July for the EBCI at its two casinos in the state.

“Our agreement with Chief Sneed of the EBCI is an extraordinary opportunity to bring an experienced casino owner-operator to Washington County and the Southwest Virginia region,” Johnson Commercial Development president and founder Steve Johnson said. “We look forward to working with (EBCI), local leaders, and elected officials in Richmond to bring this massive opportunity to fruition.”

Not everyone on board with proposal

The announcement, though, was met with disapproval from Bristol City manager Randy Eads, who said the agreement “was not even a feasible plan to consider.” Eads stated he had heard rumors the casino was a possibility.

Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released its study in November covering five potential sites approved by the state legislature after Governor Ralph Northam signed SB 1126 into law in March which allowed gaming in select cities, Bristol among them.

“There is an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the city appreciates Mr. Johnson recognizing the tremendous effort we have made as a city to revitalize the Old Bristol Mall and bring true economic development opportunities to southwest Virginia by imitating our initiative to bring a resort casino to Bristol, Virginia,” Eads said.

“With today’s announcement, the fact Mr. Johnson wants to come into the game at such a late stage could have a detrimental impact on the legislation not only for Bristol but for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia … the legislature has already agreed the city of Bristol, Virginia, would have the opportunity to have a resort casino within its boundary.

“The development of a second casino within one mile of the Bristol Mall has not been approved by the general assembly or studied by JLARC. More importantly, I do not believe two casinos resorts would be economically feasible, which in turn hampers the opportunity for the people of Southwest Virginia and Bristol to have good-paying jobs.”

Tennessee is still in its first steps of moving forward with online sports betting following the passage of the state’s Sport Gaming Act on July 1, but early drafts have shown there are many issues to be addressed before wagers are accepted.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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