Rivers Casino Portsmouth Adjusts Smoking Policy Following Complaints

Written By Adam Hensley on February 6, 2023 - Last Updated on August 1, 2023
Rivers Casino no smoking

Virginia’s Rivers Casino Portsmouth drew large crowds on Jan. 23 for its official opening. It also drew plenty of negative feedback regarding its smoking policy.

In turn, the first permanent Virginia casino now says 80% of its facility is non-smoking. There are new signs that direct patrons to the specific smoking and non-smoking sections. To get the word out, the casino confirmed the change in an update to its customers.

“Effective immediately, Rivers Casino Portsmouth has modified our smoking policy. Approximately half of the gaming floor will now be designated as non-smoking, including both slots and table games.”

It’s not just cigarettes, though. Cigars and vaping remain “strictly prohibited,” as well. Rivers Casino Portsmouth also restated its stance on pot near the slots and poker tables, by the way.

“As a reminder, smoking marijuana in public is illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The casino’s non-smoking sections now include:

  • every restaurant,
  • the sportsbook
  • the poker room
  • and TopGolf, among others.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth employees asked to join anti-smoking group

Customers weren’t the only concern as the casino considered its policy changes.

Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effect (CEASE) reached out to Rivers Casino Portsmouth employees through an open letter.

“We want to help you … not suffer silently every day that you go to work,” the letter reads. “We know all about the fears of speaking out, and that’s why the first step of joining our group of thousands of casino employees nationwide will help ensure you have strength in numbers.”

The group wants to give Portsmouth casino employees a voice and a platform to object to smoking rules, if needed.

“… We are essentially the only group of workers left in society forced to choose between our health and a paycheck,” the letter said.

Why the casino drew negative feedback

In a perfect world, a casino with nonsmoking and smoking sections keeps everyone happy. But since Rivers Casino Portsmouth’s sections aren’t separated by walls, it’s difficult to truly isolate the smoking and non-smoking sections.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights is a nonprofit that works to prevent the effects of secondhand smoke. The group likened a smoking section to having a “peeing section in a pool.” A statement from CEO Cynthia Hallett went on to say:

“This is a weak effort to address the public outcry that has defined the opening week of Rivers Casino Portsmouth. The only solution is to get rid of indoor smoking. Move it outside.”

She continued:

“Otherwise, casino workers and guests will continue to breathe dangerous secondhand smoke. Rivers has the power to make this decision immediately and attract guests who want to enjoy everything their casino has to offer.”

CEASE co-founder Pete Naccarelli echoed Hallett’s sentiments in an interview with Wavy.com.

“The bottom line is 87% of Americans don’t smoke, 13 percent do,” he said. “Why are the casinos catering to the 13% that does and while endangering the lives that don’t?”

Rivers Casino Facebook reviews draw plenty of opposition to smoking

A quick look at the Rivers Casino Portsmouth’s Facebook page and it’s evident. Many casino goers aren’t a fan of the smoke.

“I can’t imagine a weekend day/night,” one comment said. “It will feel like I smoked a pack.”

“The smoke smell was extremely overwhelming, especially the weed smell.”

“Can’t deal with the horrible smoke. [The] ventilation system needs some work or more non-smoking areas. Will not be back.”

“I won’t be back. Had to cover my mouth with my jacket.”

As of Feb. 2, the casino’s Facebook page had 46 reviews. Patrons rated it 2.6 stars out of five.

It’s worth noting that there was positive feedback from patrons on their overall experience too. Some Facebook reviews defended the casino’s smell, saying that the smell was nothing out of the ordinary for a casino.

“It was no worse than any other casino we have been to,” one user wrote.

Virginia’s Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock had a similar experience

When Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock opened last year, guests complained about some of the smoke there. Much like the Rivers Casino Portsmouth, the Bristol casino included designated sections for non-smoking.

In turn, the casino responded by revamping its HVAC system to increase ventilation.

Photo by Shutterstock Image
Adam Hensley Avatar
Written by
Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

View all posts by Adam Hensley