According to a report by The Virginian-Pilot on Monday, the City Council of Portsmouth, Virginia, will support a casino deal with Chicago-based gaming firm Rush Street Gaming LLC.
This agreement, of course, is dependent on whether Virginia legalizes casino gambling next year. The state passed a bill this year to legalize both casino gambling and sports betting, but it will need to be passed a second time in 2020 to go into effect.
If casino gaming is made legal, Portsmouth will sell a 50-acre plot of real estate located near Tidewater Community College to Rush Street Gaming and the firm will develop it into a new casino.
On Monday the Portsmouth City Council voted 6-0 in support of the agreement that is officially between Rush Street and the Portsmouth Economic Development Authority.
Economic Development Director Robert D. Moore has expressed that even if the casino legalization were to fall through, the city still plans to develop the land into an entertainment district.
Rush Street operates casinos in Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Neil Bluhm, Rush Street’s chairman and co-founder, told The Virginian-Pilot that he’s excited to get underway in Portsmouth. He has been discussing plans with the city since this February.
“I promise you we will build something you’ll be proud of," he said. "We couldn’t be more thrilled that you’ve selected us to develop a terrific entertainment district facility…For us to feel successful, we’re going to have to make sure that the community is happy with what we end up doing. In every case, we’ve had really good results.”
The facility is expected to bring in almost 1,000 employees who will earn an average salary of roughly $55,000. The agreement states that its priority when hiring these workers will be those living in the Portsmouth area.
Portsmouth was part of a conjoined effort with other Virginian cities Danville and Bristol that sought to introduce and push pro-gambling legislation. Spearheaded by State Senator Louise Lucas, the legislation allows for these cities to their citizens choose casino gambling.
A casino proposal in Bristol that would turn the vacant Bristol Mall into a casino and hotel has the backing of the city’s mayor, Neal Osborne. Those plans include a 100,000-square-foot casino along with a water park, go-kart track and venue for live entertainment.
Norfolk, another major Virginia city, has already gone forward with plans for a casino operated by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe after overcoming steep opposition. The casino will offer 4,500 slot machines, 500 four-diamond hotel rooms, several on-site restaurants, a spa, and an entertainment venue.
Virginia has a long history of horse racing and has been recently warming up to the idea of legalizing casinos. The popularity of off-track gaming facilities offering “slots-style” machines established in 2014 has shown that the public interest is there for further gambling expansion.
Portsmouth’s plans still have a ways to go even if casino gambling is pushed through next year. Moore said he expects the project to break ground by January 2021 should everything go according to plan from a legislative perspective.