Portsmouth Undecided on the Casino Ahead of the Vote

Portsmouth, one of five cities along the state-line in Virginia which were allowed by legislators to host casinos as a measure to boost regional economic development and fill the city’s coffers, is still divided on the question whether a casino would be beneficial or not for the city.

Weeks away from the November 3 Referendum vote, city leaders are not yet convinced of the merits a gambling establishment such as a casino resort would bring to the city and the community. Some of them touted the benefits of such projects for years, others still question whether a casino is the right fit for the city.

Game Changer

State Senator Louise Lucas is among the proponents of the idea and her decade-long efforts to convince the General Assembly to allow gambling in the commonwealth are now just hanging on the support the project would receive to pass the vote.

Another city leader, the Director of Economic Development Robert Moore has been promoting the benefits of the casino for months, touting the project a “game changer” for the city. Indeed, the gambling establishment which would be built in partnership with Rush Street Gaming would not be just a casino, but a whole entertainment complex.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth

The proposed $300 million Rivers Casino will be spread across 400,000 square feet along Interstate 264, to form the so-called Entertainment District. Besides a casino, the complex will have a hotel, a conference hall, several restaurants, as well as a parking garage and surface parking.

Rush Street Gaming was pre-certified to operate a casino in the state by the Virginia Lottery Board in July, and its casino project is projected to generate in excess of $16 million in annual tax revenue for Portsmouth and $260 million in gross domestic product for the region per year. It will create 1,400 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs, which are expected to provide $62 million in wages, salaries and tips.

Strong Opposition

Opponents of the casino, including several mayoral candidates argue whether it is the right choice for Portsmouth. Anthony Goodwin questions the location of the gaming establishment, just miles from Downtown Portsmouth, while Donna Sayegh states a casino will promote gambling addiction, and Cliff Page wonders whether allowing gambling in the city will push up crime rates.

Another issue the casino project is facing is that it will have competition from neighboring Norfolk just across the Elizabeth River, a city which is also deciding whether to host a casino and which is also divided on the matter. This month, flyers handed out together with food by the Pamunkey Tribe, the preferred casino operator by Norfolk City Council, stirred controversy in the city.

It was no smooth sailing for the casino projects in the other two cities which approved a vote for their residents, Bristol and Danville, where Hard Rock International and Caesars Entertainment face strong opposition, too. There were recent publications stating a coalition of churches is paying for billboards with messages designed to influence a vote against the casino in Bristol.

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