Norfolk HeadWaters Casino Approval Process Underway

Written By Hill Kerby on July 18, 2023
Norfolk’s HeadWaters Resort and Casino is seeking approval from a city board.

Norfolk’s new HeadWaters Resort and Casino is one step closer to breaking ground by the end of 2023.

Last week, architects of the new Pawmunkey Tribe casino presented designs to Norfolk’s Architectural Review Board for the first phase of its $500 million project. The presentation officially marked the beginning of its approval process with the city – something the tribe must receive before it begins construction.

Where the Norfolk Headwaters Resort and Casino project stands now

Should the project continue, HeadWaters Resort and Casino will become the fourth retail casino in Virginia. Online casinos in Virginia remain prohibited.

The casino architects’ presentation was the first of several. It comes a month after the Pawmunkey Tribe submitted its Development Certification Application, with the next on July 24.

The next meeting will again be with the Architectural Review Board, where the tribe will seek a recommendation on whether to move forward with its new two-phase plan.

  • Phase 1 includes a 90,000-square-foot facility with 45,000 square feet of gaming space. The remaining 45,000 square feet will include a lobby, sports bar, restaurant and multi-level parking garage.
  • Phase 2 adds onto Phase 1 with additional gaming space, a 300-room hotel and full resort amenities, including a spa, fitness center, live music and entertainment venue.

Original plans for the project included building and opening a temporary casino while concurrently building a permanent facility similar to the recently-opened Caesars Danville Casino. However, this proved challenging and led to the new two-phase plan to better utilize time, money, property and resources.

With the new plans, Phase 1 will allow the casino to open a temporary gaming space before completing the project in Phase 2. Each phase should take around one year to complete.

Time keeps on ticking

HeadWaters spokesperson Jay Smith told a local news outlet the casino plans to begin construction by the end of this year, setting the table for a late-2024 or early-2025 opening. Construction on Phase 2 will begin as soon as Phase 1 finishes and HeadWaters officially opens.

Meanwhile, local residents continue to wait.

Plans for the Norfolk casino date back to 2019 and became official in 2020 when voters approved the project with nearly 66% support. Yet, three years will pass before construction begins.

And in that time, three Virginia casinos have beaten Norfolk to the punch.

The temporary casinos in Bristol and Danville will give way to permanent resorts in 2024. All three could have full-scale properties before HeadWaters completes Phase 1.

The best route to competing

HeadWaters may be late to the party, but its two-phased plan will allow it to enter the market as quickly as possible while finishing the full-scale resort in less time than the original designs called for.

“Late” may also be a relative term, even if it’s still a ways away from HeadWaters’ opening. Each casino’s opening has proved bigger than the last, with Caesars Danville already on pace to overtake Rivers as the top revenue earner in the state.

Caesars’ 40,000-square-foot casino is outperforming the 90,000-square-foot gaming floor at Rivers. Its $650 million permanent facility will include 500 hotel rooms, the largest of any prospective permanent casino, but it will retain the same casino floor size.

Caesars will enjoy another advantage over Rivers and HeadWaters: Location. It is the closest retail casino to North Carolina markets like Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro. 

Meanwhile, HeadWaters will become the second casino in Hampton Roads when it opens, competing directly with Rivers Portsmouth. The 45,000-square-foot temporary facility is in line with Caesars but will only be half the size of Rivers.

Nearly two million people live in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, plenty to support two casinos. Still, the competition could lower each venue’s ceiling to where neither will top Caesars in monthly revenue, even when HeadWaters’ 90,000-square-foot permanent casino opens.

Upcoming schedule for HeadWaters

PlayVirginia expects the Architectural Review Board to approve HeadWaters architects’ designs on July 24. Once that happens, additional reviews will take place with Norfolk’s Planning Commission and City Council.

HeadWaters also needs to gain approval from the Virginia Lottery Board. According to 13 News Now, casino representatives are meeting with the Lottery and are in the process of gaining licensure.

However, construction on the new facility can begin before receiving a gaming license. Caesars received its license this past April, just three weeks before it opened on May 15.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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