Richmond Casino Defeat is Good News for Portsmouth and Norfolk Gaming Resorts, Economist Says

Richmond residents rejected a local ballot referendum on Election Day, asking whether they support allowing a single commercial gaming development to be constructed in the Virginia capital city.

A publicly run media conglomerate, Urban One, and casino operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) proposed building a $565 million casino resort. The project was dubbed ONE Casino + Resort and could have been located near the Philip Morris tobacco plant south of the James River along I-95. Unfortunately, Richmond voters said no, some 51.2% of the local ballots cast going against the commercial sports betting proposal.

Richmonders enfolding on the city’s casino bet was a big win for two gaming facilities under construction in Portsmouth and Norfolk. That is according to an economics professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Bob McNab.

McNab says the approved casinos, which were sanctioned through successful local ballot referendums during the 2020 summer presidential election, will benefit from not having ONE Casino in Richmond.

McNab said to The Virginian Pilot,

“At the end of the day, the short story is the defeat of the Richmond casino referendum boosts the prospects of the casinos incrementally.”

As Richmond declined its casino rights, the other four Virginia cities that considered gaming resorts an economic impulse did not. Besides Portsmouth and Norfolk, casinos are being constructed in Bristol and Danville.

Hampton roads destinations

Hampton Roads refers to nine liberated cities where the Hames, Elizabeth, and Nansemond rivers meet. Two of those cities are Portsmouth and Norfolk.

Norfolk has chosen a casino pitch from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire gaming expert Jon Yarbrough. The approximately $500 million undertaking, dubbed HeadWaters Resorts & Casino, is being constructed on unoccupied land next to Norfolk’s Harbor Park junior league baseball stadium.

Portsmouth is operating with a casino resort development from Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming and its Rivers casino brand. The $300 million undertaking, River Casino Portsmouth, is under construction just south of I-264 between McLean St. and Victory Blvd., next to Tidewater Community College.

The two casino sites are only five miles from the crow flies. With roughly $800 million set for investment in the two facilities, McNab says not having a casino in Richmond around 70 miles northwest along the main I-95 highways makes the projects much more realistic.
McNab said,

“The proposed casino in Richmond would have essentially blocked traffic from Richmond and northern Virginia from coming down to the casino in Norfolk and Portsmouth.”

McNab explains that casino clients are generally willing to travel up to two hours to try their luck, meaning the Portsmouth and Norfolk resorts need to be able to tap into the capital city for business. Richmond is the fifth densely populated city in Virginia, with an estimated 233,000 residents, while Norfolk ranks No. 3 with 241,000 residents and Portsmouth is No. 11 with 93,700 residents.

Negatives, too

Terming it “displacement,” McNab explains that other regional tourism attractions, hotels, and restaurants could experience declined business, as that economic activity goes to HeadWaters and River. He said one solution is for the Hampton Roads casinos and their local government to work together in marketing the area as a destination with two casinos and a myriad of things to do and visit.

The gambling industry has become crowded

The other open question, McNab raised, is if the casino will sustain annual revenue in an increasingly crowded and diverse sports betting industry.

In places like Maryland and Detroit, he said it is usually tricky for casinos to sustain and grow revenue after the first honeymoon period of 3 to 5 years. In Detroit, casino revenue reduced from a high of $1.65 billion in 2006 to a pre-pandemic low of $1.41 billion in 2019. That is almost a 15% decline. The casino will also compete against the innovation and convenience of sitting on your couch and placing a real-time sports bet.

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