NORFOLK -- States to the north, south, and West of Virginia all have at least one full service casino. Many states, including Maryland, have turned to gambling as a way to help fill government coffers and increase business. Many are asking whether Virginia should be next.
"Our infrastructure is getting worse and there's no money," said Norfolk Vice-Mayor Anthony Burfoot. "We talk about tolls, we talk about taxing our citizens instead of looking at new ways to create revenue."
Others say a casino is a risky bet and leads to costly problems.
"I don't think there's anyway the economic justification of gambling -- to bring additional tax revenue into the state would override the damage it would do," said Don Blake, of the Virginia Christian Alliance. "It brings crime and corruption into the community."
More and more states are turning to casinos, hoping the anticipated revenue would help provide much-needed funds for things like schools, police, fire and emergency services and infrastructure needs.
The U.S. gaming industry just came off of its second best year. According to the American Gaming Association, gross gaming revenue at casinos jumped to $37.34 billion. Casino operators kicked back $8.6 billion to states and local communities.
With few land-based casinos to the immediate south of Hampton Roads, casino developers see our area as prime real estate.
"There is clearly a market in the Norfolk area for a gaming facility," said Joe Weinberg, president of the Cordish Companies. "Clearly if you look at the demographics in the market, there's good population density, there's a greater regional market particularly to the south where there's a lack of competition for the most part in the gaming business. Those are some of the things we look at when we look at the potentials for a gaming facility."
Cordish Companies built the new Maryland Live! in Hanover, one of the top performing casinos on the East Coast. It's the same company working to revitalize The Waterside Festival Markeplace in Norfolk.
Could that mean a casino is in the cards here? Any move would have to be approved by the General Assembly and historically lawmakers have said no to any casino proposal, including riverboat gambling.
Blake says The Virginia Christian Alliance would put up fight if the idea comes around again. The group believes too many people would lose their money, causing hardships at home and other societal problems.
"We're strongly a pro-life organization," Blake said. "We would be just as feverish about gambling as we would be about protecting human life."
Burfoot would like to see mayors show a unified front and go before the General Assembly in support of a casino.
The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization recently conducted a study on the impact of gambling in our area. It shows gross revenues from a Hampton Roads casino would be about $375 million a year. Hampton Roads would get about $113 million a year from tax revenues. However, the report also suggests casinos could also lead to increased poverty among some gamblers, a possible increase in crime and gambling addiction.