Danville leaders not worried about possible nearby casino in N.C. They were betting on it.

Danville Register & Bee
Danville leaders not worried about possible nearby casino in N.C. They were betting on it.
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Danville leaders are not worried about the possibility of a casino coming to Rockingham County just across the border in North Carolina.

In fact, such a prospect was inevitable, and that’s why they chose such a well-known and iconic casino gaming provider for Danville, say city officials.

Danville City Council members and other city leaders pursued luring a casino to the city knowing that nearby North Carolina would become unhappy losing business and tax revenues to the commonwealth and Danville.

“That was one of the main reasons we went with Caesars,” said Danville City Councilman Lee Vogler. “The Caesars brand, the Caesars name, is second to none. We feel good about what we have and what we will have in the years to come.”

North Carolina officials are looking into the possibility of authorizing up to four new casinos in their state and of legalizing video gaming machines, The Associated Press reported last week.

There are currently three casinos in the Tarheel state operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (a partner in the Caesars Virginia casino resort in Danville) or the Catawba Indian Nation.

Legislators in North Carolina are concerned about state and local governments missing out on revenue its residents are generating at casinos along the border in Virginia.

Proposals by North Carolina leaders would allow casinos as part of entertainment districts — that could include hotels and restaurants and commercial and residential development — in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties, the Associated Press reported.

They are also discussing whether to allow the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina to operate a casino in eastern North Carolina, according to the Associated Press.

A development company with connections to a casino developer is already seeking to rezone land in Rockingham County, AP reported.

“We always knew there was a possibility at some point in the future,” said Danville City Manager Ken Larking, adding that it’s too early to tell how a casino operating just across the border would affect Caesars Virginia and the city. “One of the reasons the city selected Caesars as its operator is because of its strong brand recognition and customer loyalty base in North Carolina.”

Mayor Alonzo Jones said he would probably be more worried if the city had chosen a company other than Caesars for Danville’s casino gaming operator.

Danville voters overwhelmingly approved a Caesars Virginia casino in Danville during a referendum in November 2020.

Jones said Danville selected a premier casino company and that he was “honored that people are trying to follow Danville,” referring to the possibility of a casino in Rockingham County.

“I don’t really have any concerns about it,” Jones said. “I hope that Danville continues to be a leader. When North Carolina follows what Danville is doing, it speaks volumes.”

Other Virginia localities that voted to allow a casino in Virginia in 2020 include Bristol, Portsmouth and Norfolk. The referenda came after the General Assembly approved legalization of casinos in five economically challenged cities in the state.

Voters in the fifth locality, Richmond, rejected a casino in their city in November 2021.

Danville Casino, Caesars Virginia’s temporary casino until the full casino and resort opens in late 2024, opened on May 15. Bristol’s temporary casino started up in July 2022. Its Hard Rock casino is expected to open in July 2024.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth opened in January this year. Norfolk’s planned has been repeatedly delayed.

As for Danville’s casino, Vice Mayor Gary Miller said he knew once it was up and operating and bringing in revenue, “they would jump to do something in North Carolina.”

“We knew it was going to come,” Miller said, adding that he wasn’t concerned about losing Caesars customers to North Carolina.

Casino customers don’t just visit one casino, he added.

“I’ve got patients who go to casinos,” said Miller, a cardiologist. “They don’t just go to one. They like different venues. It’s like a different adventure, like going to a theme park. Casino players like to go to different casinos.”

Also, even if North Carolina’s plans to expand where casinos are permitted move forward, it would be years before a casino would open up in Rockingham County, Miller said.

“We’ll be well-positioned to handle it,” he said. “Caesars will do just fine. We’re going to have a first-class resort, as well. It’s not just a casino, it’s a resort.”

Plans for the final project include a destination resort casino with a 500-room hotel.

The $650 million permanent casino project will feature more than 1,300 slots, 85 live table games, 24 electronic table games, a WSOP poker room and a Caesars Sportsbook.

In addition, the resort will feature a full-service spa, pool, high-quality bars and restaurants, a 2,500-seat state-of-the-art live entertainment theater and 40,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. The resort is slated to open in late 2024.

As for tax revenues, Larking said the fact that a casino could open nearby and bring competition only illustrated city leaders’ initial point — and that made by the Investing in Danville Committee — that “we need to be careful how we invest these funds.”

“We’ve always taken the approach that any revenue we receive from the casino should invest in infrastructure and other one-time expenses,” Larking said.

One-time expenses could include funding for the city school system above and beyond the required local amount, programs, academies or capital infrastructure improvements, he said.