Construction Underway on Four Virginia Casinos, Petersburg to Vote on a Fifth

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Virginia has seen gambling activity nearly triple over the past three years. Now, the Commonwealth is ready for more as it prepares to open its second retail casino.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth announced Monday that their $340 million gaming and entertainment venue would open its doors to the public on Jan 15. The casino is part of the city’s planned Entertainment District.

Last week, the Virginia Lottery unanimously approved an operator’s license for Rush Street Gaming, which will own and operate the casino.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth is one of four casinos that Virginia voters approved in a Nov 2020 referendum. The city of Richmond narrowly rejected a fifth.

Rush Street broke ground on the project almost one year ago, in Dec 2021. This month, it began receiving deliveries of slot machines to be ready for the January opening. It’s the only project owner that has foregone a temporary facility in favor of fast-tracking the final construction.

Tim Drehkoff, CEO of Rush Street Gaming, said in a company press release:

We’re grateful to the Virginia Lottery Board, the City of Portsmouth, and the Hampton Roads community for their continued support. It’s been exciting to watch the building go up, and we’re eager for the public to see what’s inside.

What to Expect from Rivers Portsmouth

The casino will feature 1,448 slot machines, 57 table games, and a 24-table poker room. Rush Street plans to have ten restaurants, coffee shops and bars on the property. Brands will include Admiral’s Steak and Seafood, Crossings Café, Mian, Slice Pizzeria, and Starbucks.

Rush Street is also affiliated with the BetRivers online gambling platform through its former subsidiary Rush Street Interactive, which is now publicly traded. A BetRivers-branded sportsbook at the new casino will provide 27 self-serve betting kiosks next to a Topgolf Swing Suite.

A 25,000-square-foot Event Center will be available to host weddings, conventions, expos, and headline performers.

Riding the Wave of Gambling Expansion

Gambling expansion has swept the US in the wake of the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Virginia has not shied away from that trend, having expanded its legal gambling activities from three categories to six since 2019.

Wagering in the Commonwealth amounted to $3.4 billion in bets for 2018. At the time, the only forms of gambling it allowed were the state lottery, horse racing, and charitable gaming.

The Commonwealth approved historical horse racing machines in 2019. The referendum on brick-and-mortar casinos came alongside the legalization of online sports betting in 2020. There are now 13 Virginia mobile sports betting apps up and running.

In 2021, before the first retail casino had opened, Virginians wagered $9.4 billion, a 176% increase from 2018. The opening of the temporary Hard Rock Bristol in July will surely drive the 2022 total even higher.

Could Virginia online casinos be next? Politicians and residents may have had their fill of new forms of gambling for the time being. However, the presence of a retail casino industry will undoubtedly open the door for a discussion of iGaming in the coming years.

In the meantime, here’s how things are coming along at each planned retail location.

Caesars Virginia

Caesars Entertainment said last week it plans to open a temporary location for its Danville casino next July. The full casino will follow in 2024. The temporary casino plans came up during a conference call discussing the company’s quarterly earnings report.

The original opening date for the permanent location was Dec 2023. However, Caesars has reported delays in construction, causing it to push that back. Caesars senior development management advised the Danville City Council in May that opening the resort in 2023 had become unrealistic due to the cost and labor shortages, plus challenges with the construction site.

According to the original plans, the resort’s price tag was $400 million. However, the addition of 200 more hotel rooms and other design changes has increased the projected investment to $500 million.

In August, Caesars announced it had partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The project’s estimated price tag then went up again to $650 million.

Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Bristol

Hard Rock International was the recipient of the state’s first casino license in April, leading to a quick opening for its temporary Bristol Casino. The city straddles the Tennessee border and should do brisk cross-border business as that state lacks retail casinos.

The temporary location is in the former Bristol Mall. It has 30,000 square feet of gaming space, packed with 870 slots, 21 tables, and a sportsbook. It operates around the clock and will grow into the full-service Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Bristol.

Bristol Casino President Allie Evangelista announced recently that she expects the formal groundbreaking ceremony for the full casino and hotel to happen this month.

Hard Rock hasn’t announced a specific date for the groundbreaking. As for the final property’s opening date, Evangelista told the Bristol Herald Courier:

We are ready to move forward and will be opening spring-summer of 2024.

The casino has been consistent in its monthly handle since opening, with monthly adjusted gaming revenue of $14 million in each of August, September, and October. The casino brings in an estimated $20,000 per hour from gaming wagers and has paid the state over $7 million in taxes.

Headwaters Resort & Casino

The City of Norfolk and Pamunkey Indian Tribe Gaming Authority will follow the same path as most others. They’ll start with a temporary casino while construction proceeds for the full-service Headwaters Resort & Casino.

The temporary casino will sit between the Harbor Park baseball stadium and an Amtrak train station along Park Ave. in Norfolk. Like Hard Rock, Headwaters is building the temporary casino on the same property where the $500 million permanent facility will eventually stand.

The temporary casino will be a single story comprising 45,000 square feet of gaming space with a combination of slot machines and table games. The company has not provided an estimate of the total number of devices and tables.

In July, the Pamunkey Tribe said it expects an opening date of Mar 2023 for the temporary facility. The permanent casino will open in 2024.

Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray told city council members that the casino would be a significant capital investment. He promised it would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of local tax dollars. The city expects to use those funds to address its aging schools and other high priorities.

The Petersburg Proposal

Virginia’s 2020 retail casino bill authorized up to five casinos, though residents only said “yes” to four.

That’s a blessing for Petersburg city council members who favor the idea of a casino in their city. The Richmond referendum went narrowly against the possibility of Urban One’s proposed One Casino Resort. Richmond hopes to hold a second referendum sometime in the future.

In the meantime, however, Petersburg will have a chance to snatch that option away. During the 2022 General Assembly session, Virginia state Senator Joe Morrissey introduced legislation allowing Petersburg to hold a casino referendum.

A study by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission concluded that both Petersburg and Richmond could have casinos. However, Morrissey is not keen on that idea, as the two municipalities are only 25 miles apart.

He told Peterburg city council members:

The legislation specifically states that Petersburg must vote in a referendum before Richmond has another opportunity to hold a second referendum […] If Petersburg prevails in the referendum in 2023, Richmond will be eliminated as a potential host city.

During a public meeting held last month, City of Petersburg officials listened to a presentation by casino developer The Cordish Companies. Cordish operates the Live! brand of retail casinos and the PlayLive! online gaming platform.

The company provided council members with a summary of the benefits it believes a casino would bring to the city. Petersburg had selected the Baltimore-based company as its potential developer before the meeting.

About the Author

Keith Stein

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for Bonus.com. He has a combined 27 years of experience in freelance writing, full-time journalism and supporting monthly and weekly news publications. He has also worked as a contributing writer with United Press International.

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