The Portsmouth City Council approved rezoning and use permits for the Rivers Casino project in several five-to-two votes on Tuesday. Vice Mayor DeAndre Barnes and Councilman Mark Whitaker opposed the changes. The council will have to confirm the votes in a follow-up meeting in June, and licensing from the Virginia Lottery is still pending according to WAVY.com. But pressure is on, since Norfolk has its own new casino project, the Headwaters Resort and Casino, expected to open in 2023. The Portsmouth casino is expected to open sometime in 2022 or 2023.
Voters approved the Portsmouth casino referendum last fall with 66.75 percent, and the majority of community members who spoke at hearings in the meeting supported the project.
According to the casino website, the casino is expected to bring 1,300 permanent jobs and 1,400 construction jobs. The development is planned for multiple phases, with casino construction in the first phase and hotel construction in the next phase.
Barnes expressed concern that developers Rush Street Gaming will delay building the hotel. He said that the developers had four years to build the hotel, and then the city would have the opportunity to build the hotel instead.
“You guys’ job is to look out for the benefit of the casino. As council people, we’re supposed to look out for the benefit of the city,” he said.
Councilman Chris Woodard explained that they were concerned about competition from other casino projects in the area.
“We know that a hotel will make this casino successful. So in all aspects I think we are asking these questions because we want it to be successful,” Woodard said. “Being that the new information is out that a casino will be coming 12 minutes away, 12 miles away, we were thinking that you guys will probably be coming to the table with a new plan
But developers say they need to see what the operational casino looks like before finalizing the hotel plans.
Rush Street’s Board of Directors Chair Neil Bluhm told the council that after they complete the casino they will judge the market.
“We also look at what impact the hotel may have on other hotels in the market,” Bluhm said. “We would then start construction and know exactly what size hotel we want to build. But we will end up getting a hotel as part of this project.”
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