Cold weather didn’t keep hundreds of patrons from lining up as early as 6:30 a.m. on January 23 to enter Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming’s $340 million Rivers Casino Portsmouth at 10 a.m.
Officials said thousands more people came through the doors throughout the day and evening to check out the first full-service casino in Virginia. There are two other casinos in Virginia, but they’ve opened temporary casinos, with the permanent buildings not expected to open until 2024 at the earliest.
The festivities included a performance by the Norfolk State University Spartan Legion Marching Band and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
General Manager Roy Corby said, “Just 412 days ago, we stood in this very spot. We broke ground right here in the 757, on December 7, 2021. In less than 14 months, Rush Street Gaming and Rivers Casino went from 10 shovels and two backhoes to more than 1,446 slot machines, 57 tables, 24 poker tables, five restaurants and bars and over 25,000 square feet of event space.”
Corby added, “Being the first in the state, it’s surreal. Working with the state of Virginia to get things accomplished has been a fantastic voyage.”
The venue also includes a BetRivers sportsbook featuring a 750-foot video wall that can show 30 different games at once, plus 27 self-service wagering kiosks and a TopGolf Swing Suite with three bays that can accommodate eight players each. A hotel and other amenities including more food-and-beverage outlets will be added in the future.
Economic Development Director Brian Donahue added, “The energy over the last week and the lead-up to today has been tremendous. I would say it’s a sign of things to come for this great city. To think that just over a year ago, the very location where we are gathered today sat vacant, a blank canvas, which has become the mid-Atlantic region’s newest and finest gaming destination, the first of its kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Corby said the casino created about 1,400 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent positions. Analysts estimated the casino will generate $16 million in annual tax revenue for the city, which will help fund the Portsmouth Police Department and education.
Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover noted the casino will offer much more than gambling.
He said, “This will be a place where people can come with their friends, their family, to have fun, to socialize and to enjoy the amenities. We’re grateful to have Rivers Casino Portsmouth become a member of the Portsmouth family.”
Smoking is allowed at the casino, which caught several guests off-guard. Corby previously said smoking would be allowed on the casino floor but smoking would be prohibited in the poker room, BetRivers SportsBook, restaurants and the Sound Bar.
Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, scoffed at Rivers’ claims that it has the “most powerful ventilation system money can buy.” Hallett says that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), considers ventilation systems useless. “Ventilation systems are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort, but cannot eliminate exposure,” the association discovered.
“Having a smoking section in a casino is like having a peeing section in a pool. Smoke is stubborn. It doesn’t abide by a sign and stay in one area,” says Hallett. “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. 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.”
The General Assembly changed the Virginia code to state smoking may be permitted “in any portion of a facility licensed to conduct casino gaming. Any restaurant within a facility licensed to conduct casino gaming shall comply with the provisions of this section.”
Two soft-opening nights prior to the grand opening raised a total of $510,000 for local charities.