A conceptual rendering of a possible Pamunkey Tribe gaming resort in Norfolk, Virginia. Signs of the city's Naval shipyard can be seen in the background. Image: Pamunkey Tribe

Pamunkey Tribe finds welcoming host community for potential casino

The Pamunkey Tribe is seeing a warm welcome as it pursues a casino in southern Virginia.

The tribe is in talks with the city of Norfolk to locate a $700 million development there. But unlike a prior site where locals expressed opposition, the reception has been different in a city known for its port, military presence and beaches, Chief Robert Gray said.

“From day one, when we first made it known that the tribe would be considering a resort with a gaming component, we said that we would only go to a locality that welcomes us," Gray said in a letter posted by the city. "Norfolk has done just that.”

Mayor Kenneth Cooper confirmed the warm embrace. He said the tribe has a connection to the region, located toward the border with North Carolina.

"Our city is welcoming, inclusive and has momentum created by years of strategic leadership and vision," Cooper said in a statement. "The tribe's decision validates Norfolk as an emerging destination for tourism in the mid-Atlantic, and the center for entertainment in Hampton Roads."

The tribe would need to acquire land and have it placed in trust in order to open a casino pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The land-into-trust process typically takes several years to complete.

Chief Gray also has said the tribe wants to negotiate a Class III gaming compact for slot machines, card games and other lucrative offerings. The lottery, bingo games and horse racing are legal under Virginia law, and some lawmakers are hoping to legalize sports betting and full-scale gaming in 2019.

The tribe has a reservation about an hour outside of Richmond, the state capital. No large-scale developments are being planned there.

Earlier this year, the tribe said it was interested in a casino at a site in between Richmond and the reservation. That site was not final, though, and some in the community expressed opposition.

The tribe gained federal recognition in 2016 after going through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The decision ensures the tribe is eligible for various programs and services based on its government-to-government relationship with the United States.

But newly recognized tribes have faced hurdles when seeking to acquire trust land as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. According to the ruling, a tribe must have been "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 to qualify for the land-into-trust process.

The BIA must look at a tribe's history, such as treaties and other actions, in order to determine if it meets the "federal jurisdiction" criteria.

Since Carcieri, only one recently recognized Indian nation -- the Cowlitz Tribe in Washington -- has been able to open a casino after meeting the standard. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been stalled with its project in Massachusetts.

Read More on the Story
Pamunkey tribe in negotiations with Norfolk for riverfront casino project (The Richmond Times-Dispatch December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey Indian Tribe intends to bring resort casino to Norfolk (WAVY December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Norfolk in negotiations for world-class resort casino (WTVR December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey Tribe working to bring 'world class resort casino and spa' to Norfolk (WSET December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey Tribe in talks with Norfolk to build world-class casino, spa (ABC News December 19, 2018)
World class casino, spa could be coming to Norfolk, Pamunkey Indians announce interest (WTKR December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey Indian Tribe intends to bring resort casino, spa to Norfolk (WAVY December 19, 2018)
Pamunkey tribe working to buy land for casino near Harbor Park in Norfolk (The Virginian Pilot-Online December 19, 2018)

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