At the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce’s legislative breakfast earlier this month, Sen. Bill Stanley, who represents Danville and a portion of the county in the Virginia Senate, volunteered his opinion on whether a casino resort would be a good economic target to aim for in Southside.
Speaking to about 150 local business, civic and political leaders, he was blunt: “When you get a casino in Danville, you are, in a sense, saying, ‘I give up.’”
In other words, only localities that have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel want casinos in their midst. They’re a last-ditch attempt by those localities to create jobs — any jobs — and raise revenue by any means necessary.
Senator, we respectfully disagree.
The idea of luring a casino resort to the Dan River Region is one that is worth studying and worth pursuing. The enabling legislation passed in the 2019 session of the General Assembly sets up a commission to study what regulations would be needed and lays out the process by which the three localities interested in a casino — Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville — would go about approving one through a voter referendum. And on top of all that, the 2020 Assembly session must pass the same legislation for it to go into effect.
Opponents of a casino resort contend it would bring crime and other disreputable activity to the area. In a letter to the editor earlier this year, T. Neal Morris, the retired chief of the Danville Police Department, disputed that notion, arguing that the jobs such a business would create and the additional tax revenue it would bring for schools and other vital services, in fact, would go a long way toward decreasing crime. People with good-paying jobs, he noted, rarely sell illegal drugs on the street corner or rob convenience stores to make money to pay the bills.
Others have argued against a casino resort on religious and moral grounds. We respect their deeply held beliefs, but our response would be this: If you disapprove of gambling, don’t do it, but don’t impose your moral code on those who may not agree with it.
It was only eight years, in November 2011, that Pittsylvania voters approved liquor by the drink in county restaurants. In the run-up to the vote, the same arguments were heard: Drinking alcohol was wrong and would signal the moral decay of society. In the end, almost 60 percent of folks who voted disagreed, and in the eight years since, the sky hasn’t fallen.
A casino is just like any other resort-type business, except folks who choose to can legally take part in a game of roulette, poker, blackjack or craps or, if they’re so inclined, play the slots. Gaming resorts also have musical entertainment acts and restaurants — lots of restaurants — both of which bring in tax dollars. Then there’s the revenue from the nightly lodging tax. In other words, it’s all things to all people who make the choice to avail themselves of what such a resort has to offer.
Just the regional market from which Danville could draw is huge, including the metro regions of Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Chapel Hill and even Charlotte (just a three-hour drive down U.S. 29).
Still, we recognize that local residents are split on whether a casino resort is a good match for the region. All we ask is that people approach the issue with open minds.