The casino industry in Virginia reached a significant milestone last week as the state’s first permanent casino, Rivers Portsmouth, welcomed its millionth customer. Rivers staff treated the customer, Terri Powell, to a promotional package comprising $1,000 in free slots play, a dinner for four at the casino’s Admiral’s Steak & Seafood, and four tickets to see Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo live at the event center on Aug 12.
Virginia has been pursuing gambling expansion at a rapid pace in the last few years.
In 2019, horse racing returned to the state after a six-year absence, bolstered by the legalization of slots-like historical horse racing machines.
In 2020, Virginia voters approved four casinos, while Richmond voters rejected a proposed fifth casino in the area. Aside from Rivers, the other three planned casinos will be in Bristol, Danville, and Norfolk. The Virginia Lottery began offering online instant games and ticket sales the same year.
Soon after, in January 2021, mobile sports betting launched, and there are now 15 online sportsbooks in Virginia. The arrival of retail casinos like Rivers Portsmouth has added in-person sports betting to the mix.
Rivers Portsmouth is owned and operated by Rush Street Gaming, which operates retail casinos in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York.
The permanent property opened on Jan 23, 2023, with over 1,400 slots, 57 table games, a 24-table poker room and a BetRivers-branded retail sportsbook.
More Permanent Casinos Coming in 2024
Establishing a new retail casino industry in a state takes time.
Rivers Portsmouth is the first permanent casino to open in the state, but two temporary locations preceded it. The Hard Rock Casino in Bristol was the first to gain a license in April 2022 and opened its temporary casino on July 8, 2022.
It is located in Bristol Mall and has 921 slots, 21 table games, and eight poker tables. Hard Rock expects to open its permanent location in the spring or summer of 2024.
Meanwhile, on May 15, 2023, Caesars Entertainment opened its temporary location in Danville, featuring 768 slots and 25 table games. Caesars also anticipates opening its permanent casino in 2024.
The fourth approved casino, HeadWaters Casino & Resort, is the only one still awaiting approval from the Virginia Lottery Board.
The project owner, the Pamunkey Tribe, also planned to start with a temporary casino. However, recent updates now indicate the tribe will proceed directly to a permanent location, which it will build in two phases. Construction will start as soon as the tribe gets its operating license.
Is One Million Visitors a Lot?
Virginia has a population of 8.6 million. At the current approximate pace of 1 million per five months, by the end of 2027, Rivers Portsmouth will have entertained as many guests as there are people in the state. Of course, that will include many repeat visitors.
That sounds like a lot, but it’s a fraction of what some larger east coast casino resorts can get. When it opened the Encore Boston Harbour in 2019, Wynn Resorts said it expected roughly 8 million guests annually.
Virginia’s gross gaming revenue shows that the new retail gaming industry is ramping up slowly.
Rivers Portsmouth and its two rival temporary casinos generated just over $45 million in revenue in May. Rivers’ permanent property accounted for almost half of that at $20.6 million, followed by Hard Rock with $12.9 million and Caesars with $11.9 million. That said, Caesars was open only for half of the month, so even its temporary location may beat Rivers once we see June’s numbers.
Year-to-date, Virginia casinos have brought in about $144 million and generated almost $25 million in tax revenue.
To put that in the context of a more mature state market with a comparable population, New Jersey’s nine retail casinos generated $227.3 million in revenue in May alone. Their year-to-date figure is $1.1 billion.
So, one million visitors may be a lot of traffic, but it’s only the first small milestone for a market with a lot of room for growth.