On Monday, officials in Portsmouth Virginia announced a partnership with gaming industry leader Rush Street Gaming to launch a project that will introduce a new entertainment district to the city. The new entertainment district will be located just off the Tidewater Community College campus, and will be home to casino gaming, restaurants, and other entertainment attractions. Shortly after Monday’s announcement, the Portsmouth City Council voted unanimously in favor of moving ahead with the proposed development, with backing from the Portsmouth Economic Development Authority. Now officials are preparing to move forward with the project, but a number of challenges still remain; including the legalization of casino gaming within the state.
Portsmouth Mayor John L. Rowe touted Rush Street Gaming for their reputation throughout the gaming industry over the past 20 years. The Chicago-based company is responsible for the operation of full-service casinos, internet gaming, sports betting, and other entertainment venues throughout the country. One of Rush Street’s most notable achievements in the industry is the development and operation of its four destination casinos under the Rivers Casino brand. These casinos alone have created more than 6,000 new jobs, while also leading the industry in revenue generated in the Midwest and east coast. Rush Street Gaming’s casinos in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Chicago have not only generated substantial revenue for these regions, they have also benefited the communities in which they operate.
Rush Street Gaming has already demonstrated a commitment to serving the citizens of Virginia with the development of the new entertainment district. In addition to expressing their interest in promoting the local community, the company has also shown a dedication to helping non-profit organizations. Portsmouth Economic Development Director Robert D. Moore stated that the goal for the new development is to hire 1,000 local workers, with an average salary of $50,000. In addition to new jobs, the company has promoted its community engagement program called “Rivers Gives,” which aims to empower local employees to support nonprofits in the area. The company is known for its spending at minority and women-owned businesses, which are common throughout the city of Portsmouth. Rush Gaming also believes there is opportunity to offer hospitality business education programs at the neighboring Tidewater Community College.
The opportunity to partner with prominent industry leaders is enticing, and the area chosen for the new entertainment district certainly suggests that the new casino could become a hot tourist destination. The site chosen for the new entertainment district and casino is located on Victory Boulevard and offers approximately 50 acres of land. Additionally, the site has a substantial amount of infrastructure already in place for the new development. The new area is slated to become a high interest tourist destination for the state, but first it must overcome a number of legal hurdles that stand in its way.
Some people may feel that the new deal between the city and Rush Street Gaming is an optimistic one, as Virginia waits to see whether or not SB 1126 will be passed in order to legalize the new casino. As it stands, brick-and-mortar casinos are not legal in the state of Virginia, but the newly proposed law aims to solve that issues. In late November, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission will be releasing their findings about the review of casino gaming laws in other states, in order to determine if a gaming expansion in Virginia would be appropriate. The new laws must then be reviewed and adopted by the 2020 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, who would then enact the Code of Virginia amendments. At that point, the City of Portsmouth would hold a local referendum and citizens would have the opportunity to vote on the changes. Without the approval of city officials and citizens, the new deal could fall through and the casino would not be built. Under SB 1126, the Board is prohibited from issuing a license to operate a gaming facility before July 1, 2020. For now, the city will have to wait and see whether or not its deal with Rush Street Gaming can create the tourist destination they are looking for.