Opponents of the new casino project in Norfolk, Virginia, are calling for an investigation into an act of giving out flyers with the casino logo with food. Printed by the pro-casino referendum committee and indicating that the food was supplied by the tribe chosen to develop the project, the act was called “a blatant cororlation” between the sides promoting the casino and their desire to buy votes.
The casino project in Norfolk is related to the legislation brought forward in Virginia which allowed 5 cities along the state-line, Norfolk, Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Richmond, to develop casinos as part of the state-wide gambling expansion, with the last word whether a casino will materialize left with city residents who would vote during the November elections.
In May, Norfolk City Council approved the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as its preferred casino gaming operator and rescinded the initially approved deal for the casino site, a 13.4-acre waterfront of the Elizabeth River, to be converted into sovereign tribal territory. Converting the land would have deprived the city from casino tax revenue and city officials decided to revert on the decision and make the project commercial.
Flyer Texts and Logos
Marked with texts identifying them as printed by the casino referendum committee and having the committee’s logo on them, it was obvious where the flyers given with food were coming from. Moreover, the flyers clearly stated that the food was supplied by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which previously stated it had been working with area churches and nonprofits to provide funding for pantries and hot meals for people in need. The tribe is also the sole donor to the casino committee.
The act of giving the flyers out together with the food upset some people from citizen groups who oppose the casino project, as it is not a common practice for someone donating food to advertise the donation. And under Virginia Law, providing money or anything of value to influence a vote is illegal.
Alan Smith, a member of such a group, wrote to the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore to express his concerns regarding the flyers, and Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols, President and CEO, replied that since the food bank had received no donation from the Pamunkey Tribe or the Yes Norfolk Committee, she would take appropriate steps to make sure the flyers were not handed out by volunteers, if they receive them.
A similar approach was indicated by Rev. Jim Curran, the leader of the congregation at The Basilica of Saint Mary, another place where flyers were handed out, saying that they would no longer put them in.
Flyers Are No Referendum Materials
The response from a spokesperson of the tribe and the committee was that the flyers do not represent referendum materials as they have no election date, do not ask for a vote and mention neither referendum, nor casino. The Pamunkey Tribe reiterated its commitment to help the Norfolk community and said there was nothing wrong with making people aware of the donations.
Despite, Alan Smith remained unconvinced and requested the attorney of the Norfolk commonwealth to look into the matter, but the attorney’s office refused to comment immediately.