A conceptual rendering of the Pamunkey Tribe's proposed $700 million casino in Virginia. Image: Pamunkey Tribe

Pamunkey Tribe asserts rights after release of gaming study

As lawmakers in Virginia move forward with gaming legislation, the recently recognized Pamunkey Tribe wants to make sure its at the table.

The tribe is seeking assurances that it will be able to open a casino at one, or possibly two, locations in the state. One site is near Richmond, the state capital, while the other is in Norfolk, which lies further south, near the border with North Carolina.

In a new report released on Monday, Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission recognizes the possibility that the tribe could be designated as the sole operator of a casino in those localities. But Gaming in the Commonwealth, which was prepared at the request of state lawmakers, stops short at endorsing such an option.

"Awarding exclusive casino licenses to specified groups without requiring competition or vetting, however, will mean that the state and localities could lose the benefits of requiring competition for those licenses," the 200-page document reads. "A noncompetitive casino license award could subject the state to a legal challenge."

"One other state has awarded a commercial casino license to a tribe without an open, competitive process and has faced legal challenges," it continues -- a reference to a stalled tribally-operated project in Connecticut.

Indianz.Com on Google Maps: Pamunkey Tribe - Homelands and New lands in Virginia

The report notes that the tribe could pursue a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a federal law. Going that route will likely take several, if not more years, as it requires the acquisition of land through the cumbersome fee-to-trust process and the negotiation of a Class III gaming compact with the state, all under the threat of litigation and shifting political winds.

It has taken some recently recognized tribes more than a decade to open casinos. Going through state law could speed up the process, provided that the Pamunkeys don't face unwanted competition, an adviser told the local media.

“The Senate bill protected Virginia’s only tribe with federal gaming rights by allocating two localities for them to operate a casino,” Jay Smith of Capital Results, a government affairs and consulting firm that represents the Pamunkeys, told The Virginia Mercury. Similar comments were reported in The Virginian-Pilot.

The tribe has a state-recognized reservation about an hour east of Richmond, the state capital. Norfolk is about 2 hours south of the reservation.

The tribe is working on the casino with an entity called "Golden Eagle Consulting II." Prior news reports have identified the financial backer as Jon Yarbrough, the billionaire founder of Video Gaming Technologies, which has supplied gaming machines to tribal casinos across the nation.

Though the tribe appears to be focusing more on Norfolk, where an intergovernmental agreement has been signed, it's possible that it might seek to open a casino near Richmond, or to operate in both locations, according to The Mercury.

Virginia is home to six other federally recognized tribes whose status was acknowledged by an act of Congress. Under the law, they are barred from engaging in gaming on any of their lands.

The Pamunkeys are not bound by the same restriction, having gained status through the federal acknowledgment process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However, the tribe faces other hurdles, such as the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, which has prevented at least one recently recognized Indian nation from opening a casino.

Read More on the Story
Report: Casinos could bring state millions, but wouldn’t be economic driver developers have pitched (The Virginia Mercury November 25, 2019)
Virginia could get $262 million a year in tax revenue from 5 casinos, study finds (The Virginian-Pilot November 25, 2019)
JLARC study projects gaming would generate tax revenues, jobs (The Bristol Herald-Courier November 25, 2019)
Report: Legalizing casinos would provide modest boost (The Associated Press November 25, 2019)

Relevant Documents
Intergovernmental Agreement By and Between The Pamunkey Indian Tribe And The City of Norfolk, Virginia
An Ordinance approving an intergovernmental agreement between the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and the City of Norfolk, approving an option to purchase between the City of Norfolk and Golden Eagle Consulting II, LLC

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