Seeking proposals for a casino project now will provide officials with information on a potential gaming project before a possible voter referendum in 2020, said Danville's city manager.
"We want to be as prepared as possible should the state give our citizens the opportunity to vote [on whether to allow a casino in Danville]," City Manager Ken Larking said. "The more information we have now, the better for our community to help them decide what to do."
The city posted a request for proposals for a possible casino project Monday.
The request seeks proposals from casino operators interested in bringing a gaming facility to Danville. It does not include off-track or pari-mutuel wagering, which is a separate issue that deals primarily with horse racing and slot-like historical horse racing machines.
The city will consider several criteria in choosing among respondents, including projected number of jobs created, the company's experience and other amenities a project would include, according to a news release from the city of Danville.
Four casino operators have expressed interest in bringing a casino to Danville, according to email communication among city officials that the Danville Register & Bee obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to an Oct. 23 email from Larking to City Councilman Fred Shanks, city officials wanted to send out a request for information to possible casino operators, but decided to hold off until after a statewide casino study was completed by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which is the research arm of the Virginia General Assembly. That report was presented by the commission on Nov. 25 in Richmond.
"There likely would be information in the report that may help them put forward a better proposal," Larking told the Register & Bee on Monday.
An request for information asks for general information from a company, with no specific project or selection process involved. A request for proposals, on the other hand, seeks details and price estimates for a project from different companies, with a selection process that follows.
Companies responding to the city's request for proposals can submit up to two proposed sites. If they do submit two proposals, one proposed site must be either the White Mill site on Memorial Drive or the Schoolfield site. Both locations are owned by the Danville Industrial Development Authority.
Convergence Strategy Group in New Orleans, which conducted a study of the economic and fiscal impact of a casino in Danville, will help the city evaluate request for proposal responses.
"We have been working closely with the city," said Convergence Managing Partner Suzanne Leckert.
The firm will not help Danville select a company, she said. Leckert believes the city's request for proposals is a good idea.
"They're being pro-active and doing their best to plan for the future of Danville and so that citizens, should they have the chance to vote, have the best options in front of them," she said.
But casinos are not legal in Virginia.
Senate Bill 1126 called for the JLARC study as a prerequisite for possibly allowing casinos to operate in certain Virginia cities.
That legislation would allow casinos in Danville — as well as Bristol, Portsmouth, Richmond and Norfolk — if approved by voter referendum.
The study projects the first casino could begin operations in 2024, if the General Assembly reenacts the legislation in 2020. That's because, along with the referendum, regulations and oversight structure must be developed and other steps must occur prior to licensing and construction.
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, when reached by the Register & Bee on Monday, said he did not know about the city's decision.
"That's their call," Marshall said.
The JLARC report floated the idea of a competitive state selection process for issuing a gaming license, with the state doing request for proposals to decide who may operate a casino, he pointed out.
With casinos, there could possibly be a bidding system similar to that of the Virginia Department of Transportation, with a pre-approved list of firms allowed to bid on projects, Marshall said.
"With casinos, the city and state would want to know these are reputable gaming contractors and operators, so they know who they're dealing with," Marshall said. "I think the citizens would want that also."