PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A pair of California gaming consultants believe Hampton Roads could support a pair of casinos.
The conclusion comes from a study commissioned by the City of Portsmouth to see if their dreams of having a world-class casino anchor a new entertainment district would even be feasible.
“The Hampton Roads market is a very good market,” said Dr. Alan Meister, of Meister Economic Consulting, in summing up an hour-long presentation to City Council on Tuesday morning.
Meister along with John Repa of Hospitality and Gaming Solutions found that the market as a whole is good for $550 million in gaming revenue, meaning that even if the Pamunkey Indian Nation’s Norfolk casino comes to fruition, one in Portsmouth could also be successful.
The city’s economic development director recommended last week that a hotel and casino be built at the convergence of I-264 and Victory Boulevard, next to Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus instead of a waterfront location on the Elizabeth River.
Repa and Meister both said the change of location to the 50-acre former “Victory Village” site gives Portsmouth an advantage over its neighboring city.
“People aren’t going to look at the waterfront,” Repa said. “They are there to gamble. You never see windows in a casino. The number 1 criteria has to be access, access, access.”
A 300 room hotel with a 180,000 square foot casino with 2,400 gaming devices and 75 table games could bring in revenues of $382.1 to $415.3 million in the first 5 years of operation.
The figures did not include taxes the state could possibly levy and the costs for a revenue-sharing agreement for police and fire coverage.
Traditional casinos are still illegal in Virginia, but legislation that would allow gaming in five cities, including Portsmouth and Norfolk, is currently being studied in Richmond.
If lawmakers approve the bill next legislative session, a majority of voters in each individual city would still have to approve allowing gaming in their community before any license could be issued.
“We literally went from the grasstops to the stratosphere,” Rowe said following the presentation. “Intuitively we thought the market could sustain two casinos and this proves it.”
While the study looked heavily at current gaming in surrounding states, it did not look at the casino-style venues popping up in Virginia, including Hampton Roads
Rosie’s Gaming Emporium is set to open in Hampton in September with 700 historical horse racing machines, which look and act like slot machines.
“There is different types of gaming and they are not really the same thing,” Meister explained. “You can also think of the lottery and horse racing.”
Repa suggested the Rosie’s venues may only be a placeholder until full gambling can be legalized.
“First of all, I think it might be short-lived…generally what happens is on a casino development you have more options where you have table games and different types of slots…I think a lot of the reason people are going there is because it is the only option right now,” Repa said.
In a statement the Colonial Downs Group, which owns Rosie’s and has hinted at a second location in Hampton Roads, sharply disagrees.
Colonial Downs Group and Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums are committed to fulfilling our $300 million investment in the Commonwealth of Virginia and we are here to stay. We are delivering on our promise to create more than 800 jobs and generate significant local and state tax revenues. Based on our gaming experience in Virginia and other states, Colonial Downs Group and its ownership are serving as a resource to the state gaming study and we fully intend to evolve and adapt to any new regulations or opportunities that stem from that process.Aaron Gomes, COO, Colonial Downs
The consultants were not able to answer Mayor John Rowe’s question about how many potential jobs that the proposed hotel and casino could produce and say that is the next phase of their study.
They mentioned the study may have to be altered as conditions change.