Danville officials plan to hire a lobbyist to represent the city’s interests on casino legislation.

“There needs to be advocating on Danville’s behalf as this legislation moves forward,” City Manager Ken Larking said Thursday.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said there will be a casino study. There are casino study bills in the House of Delegates and the Senate, Marshall said, adding that he was not sure if there will be one study or two.

“We should know the number of studies in a few weeks,” he said.

Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones said he supports having a lobbyist on the casino issue.

“This is the first time that a proposal has come to our city like this and we want to make sure it’s done the right way,” Jones said. “That person would be working for us and making sure we get the information we need.”

Danville currently has a lobbyist in Richmond, former Del. Whitt Clement, an attorney, who represents the city on matters such as how state funding would affect the city, and other legislation in the General Assembly. The city pays him $50,000 a year.

The Virginia Municipal League and Virginia First Cities, a group that represents independent cities in the state that face challenges, also represent the city on its behalf, Larking said.

It is not known how much it would cost to hire a lobbyist, but Larking said there should be enough money in the city’s budget for the expense. If not, he would ask Danville City Council for additional funding in the budget.

City officials are now considering people and checking references.

“I don’t want to say who,” Larking said.

Legislation that would allow for a local referendum passed the Virginia Senate on Monday by a vote of 28-12.

On Jan 30, Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee voted 12-4 to approve substitute gaming legislation that could ultimately delay action until next year.

Language in the revised bill would direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission — rather than the Virginia Lottery Board — to review casino gaming laws in other states and assess impacts on Virginia. It would mean no referenda could occur before the General Assembly digests that study, and it would also prohibit the Lottery Board from issuing any license to operate a gaming operation before July 1, 2020.

The legislation passed with 28 yes votes and 12 no votes.

Backers of the proposed $250 million Bristol Resort and Casino at the former Bristol Mall were hoping a public referendum could occur this fall. Twin City businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy announced the project last August.

It was, however, the first time a casino bill has ever emerged from a General Assembly committee. The bill would allow localities in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, located on the eastern part of the state, to let voters decide whether each community wants a casino to operate there.

The re-enactment clause means no local referenda would occur before the state completes its study, and the General Assembly takes some action.

Marshall said he supported the idea of Danville hiring a lobbyist.

“Danville should have a lobbyist to make sure its ideas get heard at the study,” he said, before referring to an old saying. “If you are not at the table, then you may be on the menu.”

The Bristol Herald Courier contributed to this story.

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John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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