UPDATE: WAVY’s Capital Bureau reports that the State Senate has combined casino gambling proposals from Norfolk and Portsmouth, and sent them to the Finance Committee for further study. This puts the Norfolk proposal which is supported by the Pamunkey Indian tribe under the same legislation as a plan that includes the cities of Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol.
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The chief of an Indian tribe that supports casino gambling in Norfolk says the venture is badly needed for his people.
Chief Robert Gray leads the Pamunkey people and made his case Friday to state legislators, in a Richmond building named for one of his best-know ancestors.
“The significance or some would say irony is not lost on me that we sit here today in the Pocahontas Building,” Gray said as he began his remarks to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology.
The Pamunkey Indians’ proposal would have them partner with an establish casino management company to build a $700 million gaming and entertainment complex in Norfolk next to Harbor Park. Gray says it’s badly needed for his tribe’s survival.
“Economically we do have quite a few individuals who are in dire straits, right now we’re working on trying to establish programs through the federal government to help these individuals, but we want to stand up and be self-sufficient.”
Even with state approval, the tribe would have to prove that the Norfolk site was part of its historical range. Pamunkey members have a history of trading, hunting and fishing in Eastern Virginia long before the Virginia Colony. Their 1,200 acre reservation between New Kent and King William Counties is 80 miles from the proposed casino site.
Gray says they see the casino as a rare opportunity to raise money.
“We don’t have a lot of money ourselves. We have some farmland rental on our reservation, duckblind rental, things like that but we don’t have a lot of income coming in.”
The Pamunkey were the first Virginia tribe to get federal recognition three years ago, and they want to be around for years to come.
“We just want to have a seat at the table,” Gray said.
Any plan that would be approved would then go to the General Assembly for a full vote, and if passed, would be subject to a local referendum.