Like Neighboring Norfolk, Portsmouth Residents Approve Casino Proposal

Written By Dann Stupp on November 4, 2020 - Last Updated on August 2, 2023

Thanks to Portsmouth voters, the Rivers Casino Portsmouth will soon become a reality.

Residents overwhelmingly approved the project as part of a casino referendum in the southeast-Virginia city on Tuesday.

The city’s Election Day casino referendum passed by a nearly 2-1 margin.

The city of Portsmouth announced Rush Street Gaming is its preferred casino partner in July. The Virginia Lottery, which will regulate casino gambling in the commonwealth, quickly certified the company. After that, the Portsmouth Economic Development Authority signed off on the deal.

Now, with the successful ballot initiative, Portsmouth can move forward on the $300 million project.

Portsmouth casino vote results

Voters were clearly on board and heavily voted in favor of Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort.

Portsmouth was one of four economically disadvantaged cities in Virginia that held a casino referendum this Election Day. All measures pertaining to Virginia casinos are expected to pass.

Here’s the text that appeared on Portsmouth ballots:

“Shall casino gaming be permitted at a casino gaming establishment in Portsmouth, Virginia located at 3606 Victory Boulevard and surrounding undeveloped properties called the “Entertainment District” located east of Victory Boulevard, south of Interstate 264, west of McLean Street and north of Greenwood Drive as may be approved by the Virginia Lottery Board?”

Many Americans voted early this year, and Portsmouth residents were no different. In fact, 36.3% of registered voters in Portsmouth voted early and cast a ballot prior to Election Day.

Portsmouth voters may have been feeling a sense of urgency, as well as some possible “FOMO” – fear of missing out. After all, its neighbor across the Elizabeth River, Norfolk, also passed a casino referendum this year. The two casinos will be located just eight miles apart.

The Hampton Roads region is the only area in Virginia that could have two casinos within close proximity.

In the lead-up to the vote, Portsmouth’s anti-casino figures featured notable names, including some of the city’s mayoral candidates. However, compared to other potential casino host cities, the opposition was relatively quiet during this election cycle.

Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort details

The Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort will reside at Victory Boulevard and Cavalier Boulevard, which is just a stone’s throw from I-264.

The 50-acre site currently is mostly undeveloped. The City of Portsmouth owns the land via the Portsmouth Economic Development Authority, and officials have long maintained that it’s an area ripe for economic development.

The Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort would feature, among other attractions:

  • Hotel
  • Casino and sportsbook
  • Live event center
  • Conference and meeting space
  • Restaurants and bars

Various individuals have been pushing for a Portsmouth casino for the better part of a decade, so many of the project details have already been discussed and ironed out.

Portsmouth casino’s impact on economy and jobs

Rush Street has promised to pay the City of Portsmouth at least $10 million upfront for the development site.

Additionally, officials expect to hire 1,300 permanent, full-time jobs. All of them will have “competitive” wages and benefits, they say.

The project will also result in the creation of 1,400 temporary construction jobs.

Rush Street officials expect the casino to create $16 million a year in new tax revenue for Portsmouth. Additionally, they estimate the casino could pump nearly $200 million annually into the Portsmouth region.

Part of that boost would be from tourists whom the resort is expected to draw to Portsmouth.

What’s next for Portsmouth casino resort?

Rush Street Gaming currently operates casinos in Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois, so officials are familiar with the usual casino timelines.

Virginia will next adopt final casino regulations. Once it does, the Chicago-based casino company can formally apply for a casino-gaming license.

However, the Virginia Lottery can take up to 12 months to render a decision.

Although a definitive timeline hasn’t been set, Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort is likely to break ground in 2021. The official opening should come in 2023.

Clearly, voters are eager for the casino’s construction.

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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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