Group opposed to Norfolk casino deal holds press conference, Portsmouth developers says they aren’t behind it


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A group opposed to Norfolk’s proposed casino project held a news conference on Thursday to talk about why they think it’s a bad idea.

“Informed Norfolk” cited reasons ranging from effects on the environmental and small businesses, to confusion about various parts of the deal.

Jackie Glass, a Norfolk resident and member of the committee, is encouraging voters to vote against the casino on Nov. 3, saying it’s unclear much the community would actually benefit.

“This story is about Norfolk city leadership’s decision and choice to without consent … go through with this proposal,” said Glass.

Phil Smith is the co-chair of the Downtown Restaurant Association and owns Brick Anchor Brew House off Granby Street. He also spoke at the presser.

He says there’s been no economic impact study and the casino isn’t close enough to many Norfolk businesses for them to benefit.

“It’s 1.2 miles away from my restaurant for example. It’s not on the community doorstep. It’s on an exclusionary oasis,” said Smith.

Jay Smith, the spokesperson for the Norfolk casino, also made an appearance Thursday. He says the benefits for the area are clear, and specific details have been put on their website.

“They’re willing to block 4,500 jobs, more than $30 million every year in revenue for the city and more than $50 million every year for Virginia schools, and in the process hold back a disenfranchised community,” Smith said.

“Informed Norfolk” registered as a committee with the Virginia Department of Elections last week in order to be able to collect donations and spend money to spread their message ahead of election day.

The group is made up of many of the same people who first launched “Citizens for an Informed Norfolk” last year in an effort to have Norfolk City Council vote to repeal an earlier land sale agreement for the casino site.

The group had said then — and maintains now — they’re not exactly “anti-casino,” but “pro-information and pro-transparency.”

“We don’t necessarily have an issue with casinos. Just have an issue with this particular deal. This particular location and kind of the underhanded way the deal was forced upon us,” said Glass.

Thursday, State Sen. Lynnwood Lewis, (D-Accomac) and Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) sent a letter to the chairman of the state board of elections asking for an investigation into the committee in order to find out who is funding the DC-based PR firm — Red Banyan — that has assisted the group with communication. The PR firm has not been paid by the committee.

“It is our understanding that undisclosed “straw donors” contributions are illegal under Virginia law,” the lawmakers said.

Glass said they are following all the financial report disclosures. Legally, they are not required to file one until Oct. 15.

While rumors have swirled that Rush Street Gaming — the developer hoping to build a casino a little more than 6 miles away — is funding the opposition. A spokesperson said that is not true.

“Rush Street Gaming has no relationship with Red Banyan PR,” said Jack Horner, with Hornercom  public relations. “We’re exclusively focused on making Rivers Casino Portsmouth a destination of choice.”

In order for the $500 million projects near Harbor Park to move forward, voters must select “yes” on a referendum during the November election.If Norfolk citizens vote yes, Smith says the groundbreaking for the casino could start next year.

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