NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The lyrics “Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser” from Kenny Rogers’ infamous “The Gambler” ring true in the case of Richmond’s casino referendum, which was defeated Tuesday by voters.

In statements made by Richmond’s mayor and the proposed casino developer on Wednesday, the words “extreme disappointment” and “opportunity lost” were used.

However, if you travel slightly southeast to Hampton Roads, an economist used the words “good news” to describe the outcome, especially for the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The reason why is simple: less competition in a crucial market.

“The proposed casino in Richmond would have essentially blocked traffic from Richmond and northern Virginia from coming down to the casinos in Norfolk and Portsmouth,” said Robert McNab, professor of economics at Old Dominion University.

Voters in four Virginia cities approved casino gaming last year.

Norfolk and Portsmouth approved casinos via referendum last year by more than 65%. The project sites are situated less than seven miles apart from each other.

While casino consultants, economists, and even the state’s legislative audit and review committee found the two could turn a profit, they also warned the two resort casinos would likely not survive in Hampton Roads with a high tax rate.

The recent Old Dominion University State of the Region report found that “increasing competition, discounts and reliance on local patrons would diminish the economic impact of the casinos on Hampton Roads over time.”

McNab said Richmond voters just took a big chunk out of that competition.

“Now, Hampton Roads working together can market for visitors to come to the region from Richmond and northern Virginia,” McNab said. “We should see people from Richmond that would have otherwise gone to the Richmond casino.”

McNab’s former colleague, Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer, said the team behind Headwaters Resort Casino was already planning to advertise in Richmond. He feels the lack of a casino in Norfolk could increase the amount of gaming tax revenue the city sees.

“This moves towards us towards the upper end of the range, the spending range that I gave City Council last October.” Filer said.

Last October, Filer estimated annual tax revenue from the resort casino would range from $24.8 to $44.5 million each year.

“Before we were probably in the middle of that range, without Richmond we are probably in the upper end,” Filer said. “It’s definitely a development I don’t think we saw coming either.” 

Also on Tuesday, voters in Emporia approved the development of a new Rosie’s gaming emporium.

Colonial Downs Group and Rosie’s Gaming Emporium greatly appreciate the trust placed in us by Emporia voters. Approval of the referendum ensures the many benefits for the community and will attract new commerce to the city. The projected $600,000 in annual tax revenue, 100 jobs and community partnerships will now become a reality. This is a terrific outcome and we would like to thank those in Emporia who made this effort a success and the hundreds of residents who helped us get on the ballot, advocated for us with their friends, family and neighbors and voted on Election Day. We are committed to the promises we have made and we are going to make Emporia proud.

Aaron Gomes
Colonial Downs Group Chief Operating Officer