New Kent town hall provides information, addresses concerns about possible casino
After the purchase of 600 acres in the Quinton area of New Kent and the announcement of a possible casino by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe bringing it to that location, county residents raised concerns through social media, word of mouth, and to the county’s board of supervisors over the past few weeks. And what started out as a proposed town hall meeting by District 1 leader Thomas Evelyn attracted so much interest, other local leaders followed suit to orchestrate a county-wide town hall on May 24 at New Kent Middle School.
With every seat filled and a standing-room only capacity, New Kent supervisors looked to address concerns from citizens. And while the casino is not a definite in New Kent, it’s not much stopping the Pamunkey Tribe from bringing it to New Kent.
The board of supervisors hired Minnesota attorneys Kevin Quigley and Tom Foley for their expertise in the field and to explain the complicated process for the tribe to bring a casino to the county. Their presentation started by explaining that while horse racing, simulcast racing, charity bingo, raffles, and state lottery are legal forms of gambling in Virginia, casinos are currently not allowed.
However, the Native American Tribes can follow Indian Gambling Regulatory Act (IGRA) PUB L. 100-497, an act that permits federally recognized tribes that are in Virginia to conduct gambling on their reservation or trust lands. This, in turn, means they hold governmental powers on their property and make any changes as they see fit. The IGRA regulates only three types of gaming that is identified as Class Three. Those games include slot machines and blackjacks and can only be permitted if the Pamunkey Tribe enters into a compact with the state that authorizes the gaming.
After the Pamunkey Indian Tribe became federally recognized in 2015, they entered into the administrative process for the possibility to bring gambling to Virginia. Currently, they are the only tribe allowed to do this. The Department of Interior approved a Tribal-State Compact if Class Three gambling is permitted, allowing tribes to operate on their trust land. Those operations do require congressional authority and a compliance by the National Environmental Policy Act to confirm if the area is deemed as trust land. If that designation is approved, that area is not subject to the state’s regulatory jurisdiction. That includes being taxed on local and state-owned property.
However, with all the concern of the casino just popping up, the application process for the area to be identified as trust land takes a long time. According to the attorneys, it takes an average of eight years before a decision is made, but in most cases, the approval will be longer.
After the presentation, New Kent citizens had opportunity to speak, with many voicing concerns over the thought of a casino in the western half of the county.
“The local government doesn’t have a say in this,” said Gabriela Benzel. “We have to wai to see what happens, and if this happens, what will our local government do.
“I am from Florida and I have worked for one,” she continued. “I am worried about the local economy. This casino will bring 4,000 jobs, but it will be minimum wage jobs which means a majority of people will come from Richmond or other areas because the majority of us here in New Kent don’t work minimum wage jobs.”
Jared Harker’s comments paralleled a train of some citizens thoughts that New Kent will only reap the negatives from the casino and not the positive.
“What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” he said. “What does it profit a county if it gains a tax dollar and gains a larger drug pandemic?”
Brenda Donner said the casino will take a toll on the county’s emergency services.
“If they are not paying any taxes, what happens to the police department and local emergency services?” she questioned. “The department would have to grow and that would fall back on the citizens.
“If there is a casino, there would be hotels,” she added. “Would that happen without the approval of the county?”
County supervisors fielded additional questions in the informative section. County leaders are continuing to research the issue with legal teams and advised citizens that future forums will take place to keep residents up-to-date on the situation.