Hard Rock Bristol made history last week by opening the first casino in Virginia.
The temporary gaming space inside what was formerly the Bristol Mall just steps north of the Virginia-Tennessee border offers guests 870 slot machines and 21 table games. The transient facility allows Hard Rock to begin building its regional customer base while the permanent resort is constructed next door.
The temporary casino’s benefits don’t end there. Local government officials say the property will be closely monitored to determine what sort of impact the gaming venue is having on automobile traffic along Gate City Highway and nearby roads.
Hard Rock Bristol sits just south of Interstate 81 at the US Route 421 exit — aka Gate City Highway. Jay Detrick, Bristol’s Interim Director of Community Development and Planning, says an array of traffic improvements are likely needed to accommodate the full design of Hard Rock Bristol.
Will we need additional turn lanes or additional lanes, and traffic signals,” Detrick told NBC News 5. “[The study] will also look at other areas like the intersection of West State, Euclid, and Gate City Highway to see what kind of impact will be made there and what kind of impact it will have on the interstate ramps.”
The permanent Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol, expected to open in 2024, is a $400 million project being built by Hard Rock International. The gaming and hospitality giant is fully owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Temporary Casino Benefits
Virginia legalized commercial casinos in 2020, but only for five cities. In addition to Bristol, the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Richmond met the qualifying conditions, showing considerable economic hardship incurred over the past 20 years.
The 2020 gaming bill was designed to allow that handful of cities to use a casino resort to ignite a flurry of regional economic activity, one that brings each town many new jobs and tax dollars. The legislation allows for approved casino projects to operate a temporary gaming facility as their permanent resort is built, so long as they meet several conditions.
Temporary casinos must be operated by the same company that received a state-issued gaming license from the Virginia Lottery. The temporary casino must also be located at the same physical address where the permanent resort will operate.
Temporary casino spaces cannot be built or readied with any money supplied through grants or loans issued by a city government development authority. The interim casinos are also limited to operating for a one-year period, but can be renewed if the gaming operator “has made a good faith effort” to finish its permanent property.
Many of Hard Rock Bristol’s first guests have seemed to enjoy their first casino experience in Virginia.
It’s a pretty cool experience, they did it really nice,” one local told News Channel 11 this week. “Everything’s top-notch, state-of-the-art, and everything’s so clean.”
But not everyone, of course, was pleased. Some voiced frustration with the tight aisles among the slots.
“The aisles are so narrow, and if you meet somebody in the aisle, going from machine to machine, you have to step between the machines to get by them,” said Bristol resident Velemir Cicin. “I’m never coming back.”
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