Steve Johnson recently took credit for the idea of a casino in Southwest Virginia in an interview with the Bristol Herald Courier. Johnson further claims that rival developers Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacey as well as Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randy Eads stole the project idea from him and that they are now conspiring with legislators to block a newly announced Johnson casino development from moving forward.
Johnson declared Jan. 7 that he has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to develop a $200 million to $250 million casino adjacent to The Pinnacle, along with hotels, retail, and dining. He is fighting criticism that it’s too late for his new casino to succeed, as the General Assembly is in its second year of forming gaming legislation, which already includes the $400 million Hard Rock Bristol Casino and Resort announced last year. That legislation would need to be amended to include Washington County, Virginia, which isn’t economically distressed and so doesn’t qualify for gaming permissions in the current bill.
We’d like to thank Johnson for the casino idea and for clearing up the timeline of events leading to the Bristol casino. After all, casinos are a fairly new thing. Plus, given Bristol, Virginia’s longstanding economic situation — partly as a result of past competing development involving Johnson — it’s clear that who should get credit for the original casino idea is paramount.
During his lengthy interview, Johnson sketched out a timeline of events peppered with texts and emails from Randy Eads and legislators in favor of the Hard Rock project. In his attempt to paint a picture of economic espionage and governmental “cronyism,” Johnson repeated: “I’m no Johnny-come-lately. I’m no imitator. I’m the originator.”
The statement speaks volumes.
We fail to see how credit for a beneficial but fairly widespread idea — Bristol has been 130 miles from a casino for decades — matters in this case.
What’s more, the proposed casino location — only a couple of miles from The Pinnacle — actually stands to benefit Johnson and his existing retail development.
The Bristol Mall-turned casino and hotel represents a renaissance for a space that’s in need. There’s certainly no urgent requirement for a major casino project to expand from The Pinnacle. That retail space could see enormous expansion regardless following Johnson’s announcement, including Top Golf — a golf venue and new hotel — a water park complex, a roller coaster, and dining.
Frankly, all the players at the table can win big in this particular game.
We want to seriously thank Eads, the City of Bristol, Virginia, and the developers of the Bristol Resort and Casino for following through on this long-term project. If this casino project is about anything, it certainly isn’t about rivalries and credit — it’s about bringing jobs and economic development to an area ready for both. The Hard Rock project seems primed to do just that.
Eads has confirmed that he spoke about casino development with Johnson in September 2017 and went further, saying he had the idea in the spring of that year. Regardless of who had the original idea, it’s Eads who was successful in promoting his city’s casino project in the time since 2017 — and ultimately, that’s what matters.
Fortune favors the bold. Eads and the city of Bristol, Virginia have played the game well and worked hard for their development, which stands to benefit the entire Twin City economic community. At this point, it’s too late for anyone else to ante up.