Caesars Entertainment, which hopes to build and operate a $400 million casino resort at Schoolfield, has officially launched its “Caesars for Danville” referendum campaign.
The campaign includes a committee that will be co-chaired by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, Mayor Alonzo Jones, Averett University President Tiffany Franks and Tammy Wright-Warren, a minority investor in the project, the company announced Wednesday.
Tony Rodio, strategic advisor who is leading the campaign for Caesars, told the Danville Register & Bee on Monday that it helps to have a committee familiar with the Danville area.
“That helps give us direction into knowing the community,” Rodio said during a telephone interview. “It helps get our story across.”
The committee will relay and answer questions community members may have about the proposed project, Jones said.
“We can take questions back to Caesars and be the liaison between the citizens and Caesars,” Jones said.
Rodio said the company will use a variety ways to encourage people to vote for the project.
“We’re going to use traditional media, a lot of social media, boots on the ground, talking to people,” Rodio said. “We’ll give people in the community an opportunity to ask questions.”
If the referendum on whether to allow a casino in Danville passes in November, company officials hope to break ground on a casino in Schoolfield late this year or in early 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not significantly affected Caesars’ plans for Danville, company officials have said.
Caesars hopes to invest more than $400 million and create 1,300 jobs with competitive benefits packages and average pay between $35,000 and $47,000 annually, officials announced.
Caesars Entertainment’s resorts operate under Caesars, Harrah’s and Horseshoe brand names.
The company has plans to build a facility with 500 hotel rooms, a 35,000-square-foot conference center, a 2,500-seat live entertainment venue, restaurants and bars, 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games, 16 poker tables and a sportsbook to wager on various sports competitions.
The project is expected to be complete in 2023 and is anticipated to generate 900 construction jobs.
The casino resort is expected to bring in $34 million in annual revenue for Danville.
Caesars has worked on campaigns in the past, including partnership with another coalition in Maryland in 2012 to expand into table games, which passed by a statewide vote.
In Iowa, Caesars Entertainment had to be reauthorized by county vote to operate as a gaming entity every eight years.
In 2010, the last time the company went to the ballot, the referendum passed by 80% to 20%. Realizing the popularity of gaming in the area, the legislature repealed the requirement for casino gaming to be periodically reauthorized in county-wide votes.
At least one local minister opposes allowing a casino to Danville.
Danny Campbell, senior pastor at The Tabernacle on South Boston Road, said, “My principal objection is that for there to be a winner, somebody’s got to be a loser. It’s a sin to make your benefit based on somebody else’s suffering.”
The city and its residents will gain as a result of others’ losses if a casino comes to Danville, he said.
“We’re positioning ourselves to benefit based on those problem gamblers and even casual gamblers that lose, so that we can win,” he said. “That’s a bad idea.”
Danville residents voted “yes” in November 2019 on whether to allow pari-mutuel betting. That measure passed by a close margin — 51.87% to 48.13%.
Peninsula Pacific, which owns Colonial Downs, owner of Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, which planned to open an off-track betting facility in Danville, spent $311,400 on the pari-mutuel campaign. Colonial Downs spent $10,519.
A total of about $330,000 was donated to the campaign.
There was no highly-visible, organized effort in the city to oppose pari-mutuel betting.
Caesars officials believe Danville is an ideal community and location for a casino because the city has been working hard to re-invent itself, they said. The city’s leaders and its residents are committed to that trajectory, company officials say.
Justin Ferrell, who was part of a group behind a Facebook page, “Does Danville Win with Pari-Mutuel?” opposed allowing pari-mutuel betting in the city, but supports bringing a casino.
A casino resort, with its larger facility and more numerous amenities, would attract a higher number of visitors from farther away than an off-track betting facility, Ferrell said Tuesday.
About 10.5 million people live within three hours of the proposed resort, Caesars officials have pointed out.
With Martinsville Speedway and Virginia International Raceway nearby, a casino would be another option for bringing in more visitors, Ferrell pointed out.
“Now imagine adding a world poker tournament series,” he said.