An artist's rendering of the casino coming to Danville, with "The Three Sisters," as the old smokestacks of Dan River Mills are known, in the background. Courtesy of City of Danville.

Caesars Virginia will open a temporary casino in Danville in 2023, a year ahead of the permanent casino resort, scheduled for 2024. If the temporary casino in Bristol is any indication, this may mean millions more in tax revenue for Danville.

Bristol is home to Virginia’s first — and right now, only — temporary casino, called the Bristol Casino, future home of Hard Rock. It opened July 8, and has already seen considerable financial success. 

“It’s actually kind of crazy, the numbers it’s pulling,” said Bristol’s economic development specialist Mack Chapman. “If the trend continues unchanged, it will actually exceed what the Joint Legislative Audit forecasted for the fully developed casino in 2025.”

The temporary Bristol Casino (seen here in a photo taken in late June) opened in the former Belk store, around the back of the old mall property. The Hard Rock name won’t be attached to the property until the full resort opens in 2024. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

The permanent Hard Rock casino in Bristol was projected to bring in $130 million in net gaming revenue and $35 million in gaming tax revenue in its first year, according to the Joint Legislative Audit. 

But the temporary Bristol Casino is on track to bring in more than $171 million in net revenue in its first year of operation, Chapman said. 

The temporary casino generated $14.3 million in adjusted gross revenue in September alone, according to the Virginia Lottery. That’s around $447,000 per day. 

Since opening this summer, it has reported about $40.3 million in adjusted gross revenue. 

“And that doesn’t include the sports book, which is available right now, too,” Chapman said. 

And in less than three months of operation, it brought in $2.41 million in gaming tax revenue. This amount will be disbursed to the Regional Improvement Commission, a body created by the General Assembly, which will “determine the best use for the funds,” Chapman said. 

The tax revenue will be split between 12 counties and two cities in Southwest Virginia by the commission. There’s no official plan for the funds yet, but Chapman said it’s expected to go toward education, transportation and public safety. 

Danville, however, won’t have to share casino revenue with any other localities. 

The four approved Virginia casinos are projected to bring in about $672 million in net gaming revenue and about $181 million in gaming tax revenue in the first year of operation. Data courtesy of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

The same audit projected $190 million in net gaming revenue and $51 million in gaming tax revenue for the first year of the fully developed Caesars Virginia casino in Danville. 

But Bristol has outperformed these numbers, so it’s possible that Danville could, too.

The Bristol Casino has also created over 600 jobs in the city of about 17,000 people. The casino started hiring these employees in February, about five months before the temporary casino opened, according to Andy Poarch of the Richmond-based Alliance Group, which handled lobbying efforts for the project. 

The audit estimated that each permanent casino will employ about 1,000 people. In Danville, the estimated number for permanent jobs at Caesars Virginia is 1,300, in addition to the 900 estimated construction jobs.

The provisional casino in Bristol also substantially increased visitation and tourism. 

“We’ve actually had visitors from 49 states already,” Chapman said. “The only state that hasn’t been here is Alaska.”

Visitation is tracked through a Hard Rock loyalty program, he said. About one-third of total casino revenue in Virginia is expected to be generated by out-of-state visitors, according to the audit. 

“Out-of-state visitors would contribute especially to the viability of the Danville and Bristol casinos because of their small local markets,” the audit said. But “this would also make them vulnerable if casino development were to occur in North Carolina and Tennessee.”

Danville City Manager Ken Larking said Danville is prepared for the increase in visitors that the casino will bring. 

“Luckily we’ve been preparing for that,” he said, mentioning the city tourism program that began about a year ago in anticipation of economic development projects like the casino. “We’re trying to get all our ducks in a row when it comes to welcoming people into Danville and showing them what else is available.”

Danville has been working with Caesars on traffic studies and other plans to get prepared for the increase in tourism that the casino will bring, Larking said. 

And the city will also welcome the opportunity for tax revenue and job creation from the temporary casino, he said. 

Larking said the provisional casino will be useful in training employees in a smaller venue before the permanent casino is up and running. 

This is something Chapman said has been beneficial in Bristol. 

“It’s new right now, and you will have new employees learning the games for the first time,” Chapman said. “You just have to be patient, let them learn. When the full thing opens, you’re basically going to have seasoned veterans by then, and people are really excited about that.”

Norfolk is also planning to build a temporary casino, making Portsmouth the only of the four cities approved for casino resorts without plans for a temporary facility. 

Norfolk’s temporary casino is a joint project between the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire gaming industry professional Jon Yarbrough. It’ll come next year, before the $500 million commercial HeadWaters Resort & Casino opens in 2024. 

Similarly, Danville’s temporary casino will come mid-2023, before Caesars Virginia opens in 2024. Temporary casinos must be located on the site approved for the permanent casino, so Danville’s will be at the Schoolfield site, where the permanent casino is currently under construction. 

Chapman’s best advice to Danville and Caesars is to work closely together.

“The way that Hard Rock came in, everybody was all in,” Chapman said. “Even people that were hired from outside of [Bristol].”

He said the president of Hard Rock’s Hotel & Casino Bristol, Allie Evangelista, is “the face of Hard Rock” in the community. “She’s very personable, she’s out at community events, getting the Hard Rock name out there.”

These projects are meant to be a partnership between the business and the community, Chapman said. 

“Whoever Caesars brings on in Danville, I would just encourage them to be part of the community,” he said. 

Larking said he expected Danville’s temporary casino to be “a really good test run.”

“We can kind of get a feel for what it’s going to be like,” Larking said. “For however many months it’s temporary, we’ll be learning.”

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.