PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – There has been a lot of excitement in Portsmouth, as the first permanent full-service casino in Virginia opened its doors Monday morning.
The hundreds who lined up in the cold outside Rivers Casino Portsmouth ahead of the opening, and the thousands who turned out throughout the day, said they were happy to have a new way to have fun in the 757.
“I’ve been saying this all along,” one person told WAVY. “It gives people something to do. A lot of people can’t afford to fly, go to Las Vegas or really even go anywhere.”
A grand opening ceremony, that included a performance by Norfolk State University’s band, and a ribbon cutting ceremony, kicked off just after 10 a.m. The casino opened to the public immediately after.
The first guests got in line around 6:30 a.m. Monday.
Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover, casino General Manager Roy Corby, city council members and other officials, including Congressman Bobby Scott, were in attendance for the grand opening.
Rivers Casino is the first full service permanent casino in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Now that it’s open, it will remain open 24/7.
The entire venue, which is located along Victory Boulevard just off I-264, has a capacity of roughly 10,000 people and there’s something for everyone. There are more than 1,400 slot machines, more than 20 poker tables, several restaurants and other entertainment options ready to welcome guests.
People came from near and far for the event. 10 On Your Side spoke to one couple who drove over an hour across state lines for Monday’s grand opening.
“It’s actually pretty good, I already went in, I already won so we went, came back and got some free food and all that good stuff. We’re going to walk around now and enjoy the environment,” said Kevin Kelley of Ahoskie, North Carolina.
Monday’s grand opening was years in the making. Officials are betting big on the casino’s success.
Nearly 2/3 of voters approved bringing the casino to Portsmouth during the November 2020 election. Before that, there was a process of politics behind the scenes, and in public.
“Just 412 days ago, we stood in this very spot; we broke ground right here in the 757, on Dec. 7, 2021. In less than 14 months, Rush Street Gaming and Rivers Casino went from 10 shovels and 2 back hoes, to more than 1,446 slot machines, 57 tables, 24 poker tables, five restaurants and bars, and over 25,000 square feet of event center,” said Corby during Monday’s ceremony.
Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover said the new tax revenue will be a major help to the city.
“We can increase opportunities for funding education, paying for police and fire, our infrastructure,” Glover said, “creating other opportunities where we can use those funds to make this the best place to live, work and play.”
There were two test nights at the casino before Monday’s grand opening, which raised a combined $510,000, which all went to local charities.
Checks were presented Monday to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters; USO Hampton Roads and Central Virginia; and Wesley Community Service Center.
WAVY has heard from a number of viewers wondering why smoking is allowed inside the casino, when it’s not permitted in other businesses.
Beth Grimes was excited to come to the new casino, but as someone who suffers from COPD and asthma, she can’t be around cigarette smoke. She wished she knew smoking was allowed in there beforehand.
“I will never come here again until they ban cigarette smoking inside this building,” Grimes said. “I hadn’t even sat down yet to play a game. I’m leaving. I’ve been in this building 30 minutes walking around, and all of a sudden, as more people have come in and sat down, they’re smoking, smoking, smoking.”
She’s not the only one who abruptly left because of it.
Asked about whether he knew the casino would be open for smokers, David Spry of Norfolk said that “had I known, I simply wouldn’t have come.”
“I finally quit,” Spry said. “And I’m not going to be putting myself into a position where I’m going to get second-hand smoke. This is just not OK.”
Pam Francis also didn’t know about the smoking policy at Rivers Casino. “So if they’re going to have a section for smokers, that’s one thing,” Francis said. “But to subject everybody that goes into their casino to cigarette smoking, I think it’s backwards, archaic, disgusting, and I won’t ever come here again.”
WAVY also spoke with guests who are ok with smoking being permitted. “I smoke, so I’m down with it, you know. We’ve been in Vegas and stuff like that and that’s what they do. If you’re in a casino, that’s what they do; they smoke. You’ve got the bar. That’s how it go, you know,” said casino guest, Magneto.
“It’s well ventilated. You’ll be alright,” added another guest.
Rivers Casino general manager Roy Corby previously said that smoking would be allowed on the casino floor, but that there would be non-smoking areas in the poker room, the sports book, all of the restaurants and the sound bar.
The Virginia General Assembly changed state code to allow smoking in any part of a facility that is licensed to conduct casino gaming, except for any restaurants in them.
There’s also no last call for alcohol. Cocktails will be served 24 hours a day.
In addition to the standard casino slots and games, visitors will also be able to bet on sports in-person at the casino. Sports betting has been gaining in popularity since it started in Virginia in 2021.
Casino officials say they are excited about that aspect of gambling coming to Hampton Roads.
“With this BetRivers SportsBook here at Rivers, now Hampton Roads can get in on some of that action just in time for NFL playoffs the Super Bowl and March Madness,” said Tim Drehkoff, CEO, Rush Street Gaming and Rivers Casino Portsmouth.
Security Top Priority
City officials told WAVY safety is a top priority. Mayor Shannon Glover said if you win big, there will be someone to escort you to your vehicle.
“As you’re aware, we’ve expanded our collaboration with the Portsmouth Police Department to include a full-service police substation on property to make sure we’re the safest casino in the nation,” said GM Roy Corby.
The casino also has metal detectors.
The casino has more than 1,000 team members and is still hiring. If you are interested in applying, go to this link.
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.