NEW KENT, VA (WWBT) - The saying goes, "you can never lose if you bet on yourself."
That's the approach Pamunkey Indian chief Robert Gray is taking for his tribe.
A proposed casino the tribe wants to build could be placed in New Kent County along I-64.
On Thursday, hundred of residents attended a meeting to voice their opinions about the casino, which has been met with mixed reviews.
"What does that mean for the local businesses, how is the local government going to handle this, how are they going to protect us from the things that might hurt us?" asked one resident.
"We need to know what side we stand on. We have to be very careful of what we call 'good' that might actually be 'evil'," said another resident.
County Supervisors spent the meeting going over technical details of the proposed plans and what affects it might have on the county. Neighbors complain they still don't understand what changes the casino will bring to their neighborhoods, their streets, and their rural way of life.
Gray says the tribe is trying to increase quality of life for its members and the surrounding area, and is not just looking to build a tourist attraction.
The nearly 80 people who live on the reservation deal with weak cell phone signals, slow internet speeds and must travel to other locations for work, Gray said. The casino would change all of that.
"We don't have income coming into the tribe," Gray said. "To continue to move forward as a sovereign nation, we do not want to rely on federal grants."
Gray said he hopes the casino would be open within two to four years.
Gray said the tribe has become isolated, and hopes the casino would entice members who have left the reservation to live and work in other areas to return.
But the casino is not the only thing the tribe has planned to boost financial situation. Gray also wants to build museums that are more accessible for people to learn about the Pamunkey Tribe and its culture without having to drive to an out-of-the-way destination. He also plans for assisted living facilities on the reservation.
Federal law allows the tribe to seek permission to build a casino on any of its ancestral lands. Jon Yarbrough helped the tribe purchase 600 acres in New Kent County earlier this year that could be used for the casino.
Other locations are being considered, and Gray said the goal is to connect the tribe to surrounding communities.
"We'd hope they'd ask questions," Gray said. "We are looking for a world-class operation that brings tourism for Virginia. We hope to become one of the major tourist attractions in Virginia. The other factor is we want the revenue we earn to stay in the state."
The proposed casino is estimated to bring in some 4,000 new jobs. If approved, county supervisors say the Pamunkey tribe expects the casino to generate up to a billion dollars for the state.
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