Two Bristol enterprise leaders gambled on a loopy thought and gained | Newest Headlines

BRISTOL, Va. – The first time Jim McGlothlin stepped inside the Bristol Casino, future home of Hard Rock, was during last Thursday’s VIP reception.

For a project he and partner Clyde Stacy, Hard Rock and their associates spent years bringing to life, he hadn’t set foot inside the former Belk department store space during months of construction. His response?

“I was so pleased. It was so much better than I dreamed it would be,” McGlothlin said Friday following the grand opening ceremonies. “I always want a good surprise so I didn’t want to see it in the middle of construction.”

During the ceremony, McGlothlin joked with Hard Rock Chief Operating Officer Jon Lucas, asking “I hardly know how we’ll improve for the permanent but we will. Right Jon?”

He compared the emotion of opening the facility – and the legislative wrangling that led up to it — to winning in court.

People are also reading…

“I used to be a lawyer and it was like after a jury trial – either you won or you lost but hopefully you won. There was a big letdown,” he said. “So we’ve done this; what do we do next?”

The answer is already under construction. Bristol Casino is but a placeholder for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Bristol scheduled to open in May 2024. The gaming floor will be more than three times its present size with more games and more features. It is scheduled to have more restaurants and bars, a 300-room hotel expandable to 650 rooms, spa, pool, retail options, convention space and Hard Rock Live – a 2,000-seat indoor music venue that can be converted into a 20,000-seat outdoor venue for major touring acts.

McGlothlin built his fortune in coal but has diversified The United Company into energy exploration, investment management and real estate development. Which is where a vacant former mall on Gate City Highway comes in, after lifelong friend Clyde Stacy acquired it and proposed establishing a casino resort as an economic engine for the city and region.

In late summer 2018 McGlothlin and Stacy publicly disclosed their plans to seek a change in state law so they could open a resort casino inside the 500,000 square-foot former shopping mall, which closed in 2017. Despite being armed with a Chmura Analytics study featuring rosy economic projections they faced an admittedly slim chance of swaying a General Assembly that had ignored casino overtures for years.

Among the songs played right after Friday’s casino grand opening ceremonies was “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a Journey anthem replete with references to rolling dice, winning and losing and perseverance. The title could be their anthem.

“I can’t tell you the emotions,” McGlothlin said. “The successful feeling you have of putting this all together; and the help from everybody. There were really no negative people out there pushing against it. Having these legislators come down here and see what they helped to create. It’s just an outstanding day.”

McGlothlin said people rather than policy likely made the difference in the General Assembly.

“I think it started with Bill Carrico,” McGlothlin said of the former GOP state senator who signed on as an original patron of the bill.

In September 2018, it was Carrico who told the Bristol Herald Courier he had been approached about the plan, but wasn’t sure he could support a gambling bill.

“He wasn’t for gaming but he said, ‘I’m very sold on letting the people here decide that. I represent them but let them have this opportunity to decide,” McGlothlin said. “He did and I think that’s where it really started. He could see the need for some kind of economic catalyst. Then the legislators, when we met with them, they saw the need.”

McGlothlin also praised state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who’d repeatedly failed to gain support for gaming legislation.

“Sen. Lucas and I are good partners, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’ve never seen her do anything but what she thought was right. She was a great ally to us.”

McGlothlin said there were “little downfalls” throughout the process but never a roadblock strong enough to stop their efforts.

Legislation which enables casinos to operate in five Virginia cities also created a commission tasked with distributing gaming tax revenues generated by one – Bristol – among the 12 counties and two cities within the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Bristol district. That body, the Regional Improvement Commission, held its organizational meeting May 23 and met again in late June.

Commission members serve two-year terms and are appointed by governing bodies of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe counties, plus the cities of Bristol and Norton.

The statute prescribes that all eligible gaming tax revenues collected by the state will be transferred from the state to the commission. The commission’s role is to “establish funding priorities for member localities related to improvements in the areas of education, transportation, and public safety; and make annual payments divided equally among the jurisdictions to fund the established priorities as determined by the commission.”     

Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads serves on that commission and said they are awaiting word from the state on precisely how the entire process will work.

Bristol is the only casino host city required to share its tax revenues with any other locality. It is also the smallest, poorest and has the greatest per capita long-term debt. The Bristol Casino was also forecast to generate the least amount of tax revenue of any of the casinos operating in larger cities, according to a 2019 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

 “As a region, we’ve got to stand together to survive and thrive. Everyone can share in the financial impact — not just Bristol. We hope this has a very positive impact on our city and our entire region,” Eads said.

The commission’s role only applies to gaming tax revenues generated by the casino. The city of Bristol will receive all local tax revenues on real estate, machinery and tools, local sales and use, prepared meals, hotel rooms, cigarette sales and other local taxes generated by the development.

In November 2020, voters in Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth also overwhelmingly approved referendums allowing a casino to operate in their cities. Richmond held its vote in November 2021 and residents there turned down a proposed casino. It hasn’t been determined if Richmond can conduct another vote, or if another city could apply. Among the other three, none has yet received its gaming operator’s license from the Virginia Lottery Board.

The anticipated opening of Caesars Virginia has been delayed until at least 2024.

In May a representative of Caesars Virginia told the Danville City Council that supply chain issues, a shortage of skilled labor and being forced to remove large amounts of concrete from the site will delay the opening of its casino at the old Dan River Mills property from December 2023 to sometime in 2024. Construction began last October.

Now billed as a $500 million project – up from the original $400 million estimate – Caesars Virginia is scheduled to include a large gaming floor with 1,400 slot machines, 75 table games, a World Series of Poker room with 25 tables and a sportsbook. Additionally, a 500-room hotel, restaurants, a 2,500-seat entertainment center and 40,000 square feet of meeting and convention space are also part of the plan, according to Caesars.

The facility is expected to employ 1,300 workers when fully built out.


The city of Norfolk recently approved a two-year permit for a temporary casino to operate inside a former fitness center inside Harbor Park Stadium, near where its $500 million Headwaters Resort and Casino is planned. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, operators of the casino, goes before the Virginia Lottery Board July 20 in hopes of securing its gaming operator’s license.

The temporary site is expected to have about 625 slot machines and electronic table games. Plans are to employ about 275. If approved, it is expected to open in early 2023, according to a tribal spokesperson.

Plans for the permanent casino resort include a large gaming floor with 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games. It also includes a 300-room hotel, large 2,500-seat entertainment venue, pool, spa, multiple restaurants, sports bar and grill located on 14 acres east of Harbor Park along the banks of the Elizabeth River.

Construction of the permanent facility is expected to begin this year and be completed by late 2024. It is expected to create about 2,500 permanent jobs. The facility is forecast to generate 6.2 million annual visitors.

Rush Street Gaming and the city of Portsmouth held a groundbreaking ceremony last December for the Three Rivers Portsmouth and completed installing all of the structural steel in late May.

The $300 million casino resort currently under construction includes a 400,000-square-foot complex will include slot machines, table games, poker room, sportsbook and high-limit gaming areas. Plans also include multiple restaurants, a 3,000-seat event venue, movie theater, retail stores and hotel. Opening date is targeted for early 2023, according to the company’s website.

The facility plans to hold a general job fairs on July 23, Aug. 20 and Sept. 28, according to the casino website. Once open it is expected to employ about 1,300 permanent workers.

Voters in the capital city turned down the proposed ONE Casino and Resort last November and efforts to put the question back on the ballot have stalled. The project was to feature a 90,000-square-foot gaming floor with 1,800 slot machines, 100 gaming tables and a sportsbook, a 150-room luxury hotel, restaurants and 3,000-seat entertainment center. The casino coalition included Urban One, a radio station ownership group and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment which owns Colonial Downs and a series of Rosie’s Gaming emporiums.

In April a Circuit Court judge granted a city request to place the casino question back on the ballot this November. However the new state budget prevents another Richmond vote until 2023 to allow a study of placing the state’s final casino in nearby Petersburg, according to multiple media reports.

Peninsula Pacific, meanwhile, continues to operate five Rosie’s Gaming Emporium locations in Virginia. Each offers a very slots-like gaming experience using historic horse racing results to determine winners. Current locations include Dumfries, Hampton, New Kent, Richmond and Vinton. Rosie’s is also expanding its off-track betting location in Collinsville to include slots-like gaming, according to the company website. It currently deploys 2,700 historical horse racing games.

Earlier this year the company broke ground for The Rose Gaming Resort, a $400 million dollar gaming and entertainment complex along I-95 in Prince William County. Designed much like a casino, it is to feature the slots-style gaming, hotel, cars, restaurants, meeting space and other amenities, according to a written statement. It is expected to employ about 600 people.

In February, Churchill Downs Inc., parent firm of the Kentucky Derby, announced a $2.48 billion deal to acquire all of Peninsula Pacific assets including its Virginia holdings, a Hard Rock casino in Sioux City, Iowa and del Lago Resort and Casino in New York. The acquisition is still pending regulatory approval.