Hard Rock Virginia—Bristol Resort ‘Not Delayed’ But Won’t Open in July, Aiming For Later in 2024

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Hard Rock’s permanent casino resort in Bristol, Virginia, won’t open next month, the company revealed last week. It hasn’t committed to a new opening date but has obtained a six-month extension from the Virginia Lottery Board, which regulates the state’s new retail casinos. That implies an opening in January 2025 at the latest, but more likely in late 2024.

From the sounds of things, a July opening may never have been in the cards. The casino’s president, Allie Evangelista, told the Kingsport Times-News that the original date was mandated by the state’s regulations. These state that casino licensees opening a temporary facility must launch their permanent casino no more than two years later. 

On June 12, Hard Rock issued a press release clarifying this point. The deadline extension isn’t so much a delay as a change of plans from a gradual roll-out of permanent features to a synchronized one. The company stated:

From the outset, it was our intention to open key elements of the facility later in the year. However, to ensure a comprehensive and memorable debut, instead of staggering the opening of key amenities, we have decided to do a “Grand Opening” with all elements of the project including Hard Rock Live, an array of diverse dining options and our signature Hard Rock Hotel all at once.

(This article was updated on June 13 to include the above statement.)

Hard Rock’s temporary facility in Bristol opened on July 8, 2022. It was the first of the four licensees to begin operations in the state, beating Caesars by more than ten months. Meanwhile, Rush Street Gaming opted to forgo a temporary facility, opening its permanent location last July, almost exactly one year after Hard Rock.

That head start came at the expense of forcing Hard Rock to rush its permanent construction. In her interview with the Times-News, Evangelista presented the extension as a positiveallowing Hard Rock the time to do the job properly.

Hard Rock received the extension because it has already met its minimum financial commitment of $300 million and is integrating the temporary facility into the final casino.

Impatient casino-goers will at least have some additional dining options to tide them over until the grand opening. Several new restaurants will be opening at the temporary casino in July.

Fourth & Fifth Virginia Casino Still in Limbo

Virginia legalized retail casinos alongside sports betting in April 2020. The original plan called for five casino licenses, but only four were awarded, and one of those may turn out to be a dud.

Voters in each of the five selected municipalities had their chance to approve or deny the casino plans in a referendum. Only Richmond voters said no, and they did so twice. Media company Urban One successfully pushed for a second referendum after the first failed by a small margin, but voters rejected the second attempt more emphatically.

Now, it looks as if there will be a third referendum, this time in Petersburg. However, it’s already mired in controversy. City officials selected Cordish Companies as the potential licensee but did so behind closed doors. Critics, including state lawmakers and the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here, have said the process lacked the necessary transparency. The union is threatening to sue the city.

Assuming the referendum goes forward, Petersburg voters will get their say in November.

Meanwhile, the fourth licensee may abandon its license and force the process to begin anew. The Pamunkey Tribe and its financial backers, Golden Eagle Consulting, had been chosen to build a Norfolk casino called HeadWaters Casino Resort. However, the tribe has yet to begin construction. City officials are preparing for the eventuality that they may need to reopen bidding and select a new licensee.

Hard Rock Bet Growing Its Online Footprint

The three operators that have opened their retail casinos are also participants in Virginia’s legal sports betting market.

Hard Rock Bet now operates in eight states, but Virginia was just its third. Aside from a longstanding presence in New Jersey, thanks to its Atlantic City casino, Hard Rock mostly sat out the early days of legal online gambling in the US. However, it rolled out a new platform last year and has since been making up for lost time.

To date, New Jersey remains the only state where it offers online casino gaming. That may soon change, however, as it is expected to launch in Michigan soon. It will likely take over for 888 Holdings (now known as Evoke) as the partner of the Hannahville Indian Community.

Virginia online casinos are sweepstakes-only at the moment, and real-money iGaming is probably many years away. At a minimum, lawmakers would probably like to see the final completion of the retail casinos before considering an online option. Once that happens, though, Virginia will likely be high on the list of potential candidates. It’s something that all three established operators would like to see.

The odds of success may depend partly on whether the other two casinos ever materialize and who builds them. Cordish Companies, in particular, is a known opponent of iGaming, which it feels has hurt its retail business in other states. And it’s an open question who might replace the Pamunkey Tribe and Golden Eagle Consulting if they fail to get their project underway.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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