Posted on: May 29, 2022, 07:36h. 

Last updated on: May 30, 2022, 11:33h.

A casino in Norfolk, Va., is another step closer to opening. That’s after that city’s Planning Commission supported a plan to use space at a local minor league baseball stadium for a temporary gaming venue.

Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority EVP Rodney Ferguson
Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority Executive Vice President Rodney Ferguson speaks before the Norfolk Planning Commission on Thursday about the authority’s plans for a temporary casino that would be located at the city’s minor league baseball park. (Image: City of Norfolk)

With a 5-1 vote at its meeting Thursday, the commission recommended a two-year conditional use permit for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to operate a temporary casino in a vacant restaurant and boxing club at Harbor Park Stadium.

Rodney Ferguson, the executive vice president for the Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority, told the commission that the temporary venue would hold about 625 slot machines, may also feature electronic table games, and offer a restaurant. He added that the goal is to use the temporary casino to introduce Class III gaming to the region.

The tribe and the city reached an agreement in 2020 that voters approved to build HeadWaters Resort and Casino, a $500 million development on 13 acres of waterfront property next to the ballpark.

What our property will do is allow the residents and guests to come to a facility that will be a teaser to our big facility, our more permanent facility… it will be a first step into (the) Norfolk market that will showcase what HeadWaters can actually do,” Ferguson said.

The commission’s recommendation will now go before Norfolk City Council. The Council could act on the recommendation as early as next month.

Casino officials are hoping to get approval from the Virginia Lottery Commission, perhaps as soon as July, to begin work on the temporary venue.

No Direct Access from Stadium

Reports that the ballpark would be the site for the temporary casino first surfaced in March.

The casino will be physically connected to the baseball park and views from the restaurant will allow patrons to watch a Norfolk Tides game and enjoy a meal at the same time. However, John Thompson with Golden Eagle Consulting, a development partner with the Pamunkey Tribe, told the commission that baseball officials would not allow direct access to the temporary casino from the stadium’s concourse.

That means anyone watching the Triple-A baseball team who would want to play the slots would have to physically leave the stadium and walk around to the casino entrance on the first base side of the park.

As part of the agreement to operate the temporary casino at the park, Thompson said HeadWaters would pay the Tides $175,000 to cover upgrades for the stadium’s kitchen facilities. That would also move the kitchen closer to the ballpark’s concessions located on the third base side.

That agreement, though, is also contingent on the City Council approving the conditional use permit.

Security Concerns Arise

One of the main issues that arose from Thursday’s meeting was concerns about safety for casino patrons and the surrounding area.

The Norfolk Civic League spoke in opposition to the proposal, citing concerns that the casino would stretch the city’s police patrols responsible for covering downtown. The group did receive an 88-page security plan from casino officials just prior to the commission meeting. But Civic League Vice Chair Preston Carraway said the organization would need to review that first before it could get behind the temporary casino.

The lone “No” vote came from Commissioner Kim Sudderth, who said she also needed to see the security plan before she could support it.

Ferguson gave the commission details about the security plans for the temporary venue before Carraway spoke and its members voted. The plan includes hiring and training 45 security officers that will monitor the casino around-the-clock. The casino will also come equipped with detection equipment to keep weapons and items like pepper spray out of the facility.

HeadWaters executives also have had discussions with a third-party security firm that also does work in the area to patrol the parking lot and surrounding areas.

“We take it very seriously,” he said. “We know that when a person comes to the facility, when the person is at the facility, when the person leaves the facility, they want to feel safe. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to come back. So, it’s been at the top of our list.”