As Danville and officials from Rosie’s Gaming work together to hammer out the details for a historic horse racing gaming facility after voters approved pari-mutuel gaming in November, City Council continues to study the idea of trying to lure a full-fledged casino resort to the River Region.

Though casinos aren’t legal in Virginia, that could change in the next several months. In the 2019 session of the General Assembly, legislators approved legislation to allow for voters in specific localities, Danville among them, to decide whether casinos could operate in their jurisdictions. The legislation, which included a study of the issue by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, must be signed off on again by the Assembly in the 2020 session. The earliest voters could take up the topic would be in the upcoming November elections.

Last month, council received a detailed report from New Orleans-based Convergence Strategy Group and Scott Fisher, its CEO, that ran down the possible impacts of a casino, based on size and scope, and the numbers are enticing, to say the least. Convergence, by the way, specializes in the gaming industry and, according to the company’s website, has conducted viability studies for more than 400 casinos around the world.

Convergence ran the numbers on two levels of a casino at four locations in the city: the White Mill, an unnamed “highway location,” Schoolfield on West Main Street and the Piedmont Drive retail corridor. At each site, the consultants studied the impact of a destination resort-scale casino with 2,500 slot machines, 100 table games, 325 hotel rooms, restaurants and other full resort amenities and a smaller scale casino with 1,200 slot machines, 60 table games, 225 hotel rooms, restaurants and limited amenities.

Fisher explained his role and that of Convergence “was not to be an advocate of gaming,” rather “to help the [city] understand the pros and cons, impacts, jobs and what different locations would generate in terms of taxes, jobs and impacts.”

Also included in the study was an examination of the concern that gaming would increase crime, a topic opponents of the Nov. 5 pari-mutuel gaming referendum raised in their efforts to defeat the initiative.

According to Fisher, Convergence selected 12 cities across the United States that are similar in size to Danville and have casinos as points of comparison. After talking to public safety officials in those cities and examining the publicly available crime data from those localities, Fisher told council, “The result was pretty universal that the impacts were not felt.”

Now for the study’s conclusions.

A full-fledged destination resort casino, Convergence determined, could create up to 2,377 direct jobs with payroll totaling almost $76 million. Revenues generated at a “highway” location — lodging, food and beverage and entertainment — could reach $436.5 million. Numbers at the upper range of the study could generate a sizable boost to public coffers. According to Convergence, gaming taxes could reach between $4 million to $4.5 million, with lodging, meals and sales taxes generating an additional $4.8 million to $5.4 million.

Even a scaled-down casino at the “highway location” has the potential to generate from $233 million to $280 million in gaming revenues while creating between 1,480 and 1,780 jobs and generating between $2.9 million and $3.5 million in gaming taxes and between $3.1 million and $3.6 million in lodging, meals and sales tax revenues.

Simply put, these potential impacts are just too great to ignore. Of the localities to which the Assembly granted permission to pursue casino gaming, Danville is uniquely sited geographically to reach a huge potential market that’s attractive to the industry, namely, northern North Carolina and the booming Triad and Research Triangle regions. A full-fledged resort casino — and yes, Danville, there is a lot in this part of Virginia to attract visitors — could provide a huge economic boost to the region and increase its visibility for other types of economic development.

We were an advocate of the pari-mutuel gaming referendum and we support the city’s ongoing efforts to lure casino gaming, if feasible. It’s all part of a multi-pronged economic development strategy that could pay off big in the future. The potential for this city is unlimited, but we must break free from the strictures of the past to envision what Danville could become in the 21st century.

Let’s go for it.

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