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Hampton Roads casinos one step closer to reality after Senate committee passes casino gambling bill

The cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth plan to hold referenda on casinos if the bill is passed by the General Assembly.

RICHMOND, Va. — Some good news if you like to bet money on roulette: casino gambling in Virginia is one step closer to reality.

A Senate committee passed legislation to allow five cities in the state to hold referenda on casinos, including Bristol, Danville, Richmond, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.

There's still more to happen in Richmond before the bill becomes a law, but supporters say it's likely the General Assembly will pass the legislation.

RELATED: Virginia lawmakers advance plan to legalize casinos

Advocates say a casino would create jobs and boost local economies.

"Everyone else is getting casinos, everywhere else. Why we can't have one down this way?" Portsmouth resident Antwon Vreen asked. "It will keep everything in the neighborhood, keep all the people born and raised in Portsmouth. Louise Lucas, she's the senator and whatever she says goes. I believe it's good and I want it to come." 

Senator Louise Lucas, a longtime supporter of casino gambling, introduced the bill.

Lucas' daughter, Portsmouth Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas Burke, noted the city already has plans for the casino. It will be built as part of a larger entertainment district with restaurants, shopping, and maybe a movie theater. 

"This is going to mean more revenue, more opportunity, more reason to live in Portsmouth. This is something we have been striving for, for my entire time on the city council," Lucas Burke said.

She added, she's not worried about the competition from a potential casino in Norfolk.

"When they go to casinos - Ocean Downs [in Maryland] and Dover Downs [in Delaware] - people will visit one on one day, and then they visit the other on the way home," she said. "So having two localities just brings in more revenue for everybody."

The Pamunkey Tribe already signed on to run a casino near Norfolk's Harbor Park.

"It's good for the area," Norfolk resident Curtis Weaver said. "You can sit in there and relax and have a good time... it's a good thing. It's not bad at all."

There are renderings for the project, but developers are awaiting confirmation from the state before taking the next steps. 

Pamunkey spokesperson Jay Smith noted the tribe is optimistic about the future.

"Both the House and the Senate subcommittees have made an indication that casino and gaming are coming to Virginia, so we are optimistic that this legislation will keep moving forward," he said. "This is a destination resort and casino so we anticipate millions of visitors coming to this location not only to enjoy the resort and casino but also the other amenities and attractions that the Norfolk area has to offer."

It hasn't been an easy road in Norfolk. A petition against the proposal gathered enough signatures, prompting City Council to schedule more public meetings about the casino.

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