Two casinos, just miles apart, will debut in Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads will be home to two Las Vegas-style casino complexes after Norfolk and Portsmouth voters overwhelmingly approved November 2020 referendums greenlighting the projects in their cities. The referendums passed with 64.4% of the vote in Norfolk and 66.7% in Portsmouth.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is working with Tennessee billionaire Jon Yarbrough to build the Norfolk Resort & Casino on about 14 acres of waterfront property adjacent to Harbor Park. Featuring a four-diamond, 300-room hotel, the $500 million casino complex will also have indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, multiple restaurants, an entertainment venue and a gaming room with sportsbook, slot machines and table games.
In Portsmouth, Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming plans to construct the $300 million Rivers Casino near the Tidewater Community College (TCC) campus on Victory Boulevard. The complex will include a four-star hotel, conference space, indoor and outdoor concert theaters, multiple restaurants, retail and a gaming floor with a variety of slots, table games, a poker room and a BetRivers Sportsbook.
Both developments are slated to start construction in 2021 and open in late 2022 or early 2023.
Local officials say the casinos will spur economic development, acting as a catalyst for other businesses and attractions. “It’s an extension of our downtown waterfront promenade area and is going to bring more people downtown,” says Jared Chalk, Norfolk’s director of economic development.
Projected to attract more than 6 million tourists a year, the casino could add about $44 million to the city’s coffers in annual tax and gambling revenues. Additionally, it is expected to create about 2,500 permanent jobs along with 2,000 construction jobs. Chalk said the city and Norfolk State University have discussed developing a hospitality program for workforce training.
As the anchor for Portsmouth’s new entertainment district, Rivers Casino is expected to transform the city while generating $16.3 million in annual tax revenues. “When you look at the city where the majority of land is nontaxable because of federal or local government ownership, this is certainly a huge project for us when it comes to what it can do” in the long run, says Portsmouth Economic Development Director Robert D. Moore.
With an estimated annual payroll of $62 million, Rivers Casino is projected to produce 1,300 permanent jobs and 1,400 construction jobs. City officials are joining forces with TCC to offer workforce development programs that train workers in hospitality and culinary arts.
In addition, developers of both casinos have indicated that they will hire 90% of their employees locally, including up to 50% minority workers.
“When you look at both of these developments, it’s 3,800 to 4,000 jobs in the next couple of years,” says Bryan K. Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. “That is huge in Hampton Roads.”
He adds that Virginia is playing catch-up to about 30 other states that have already approved gaming and casinos. “It’s definitely becoming a major industry. It’s a huge creator of jobs and a new tax base.”
Major benefits include new retail establishments and restaurants growing up around the resorts.
Although the casinos will be less than 10 miles apart, local leaders believe the region can support both venues. “I think people would love to experience both casinos,” says Stephens, who has encouraged Norfolk and Portsmouth to offer transportation between the resorts. “If someone is considering coming to Virginia Beach for a vacation and can take a short drive to go to the casinos, they may attract them to come here, as opposed to going to other places that don’t have casinos.”
Chalk adds that each complex offers visitors a different experience. “What we don’t want is a proliferation of gaming machines,” he says. “Norfolk and Portsmouth want resort-style casinos that will bring new people to the region. They can work in concert.”
Done properly, the casinos will be additional assets for the region, Stephens says. “It’s definitely going to change the complexion of our region and draw a lot of people into Hampton Roads who would not normally have come. It kind of makes Hampton Roads a little bit more exciting.”