PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — While many complaints about smoking have rolled in after the opening of the new Rivers Casino Portsmouth, an industry expert says the casino may see that the revenue benefits outweigh the backlash, at least for a while.
Other casinos in the region such as Dover Downs in Delaware and all of Maryland’s casinos are smoke-free, but Portsmouth’s casino has opted to allow smoking in the main casino area. Other parts of the facility such as restaurants, the sports book room, dedicated poker room and more are non-smoking.
This comes after a report last year from Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming said that banning smoking in casinos is no longer impacting revenues overall like once thought. There are exceptions though, with the study citing reported revenue drops in Delaware, Colorado, New Orleans and other locations. Complete Coverage: Grand Opening of Rivers Casino in Portsmouth
“That’s something that we have seen, is that we’re not seeing entire markets go non-smoking. So it does allow a competitive advantage for some properties to still have that as an amenity for their guests, and we’re seeing that all over the country,” says Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor of hospitality at University of Nevada, Las Vegas , who has more than 20 years of management experience at casinos, hotels and restaurants. “I think it’s less dependent upon the operator themselves and more dependent on the market they’re in.”
Belarmino says she thinks in about 10 to 15 years, smoking will be gone industry-wide due to changing demographics and trends away from smoking. But at the moment, higher spenders at casinos are older, and data shows those who still smoke tend to be older adults. Rivers Casino Portsmouth: What to know before you go
“What most people would argue, that I know in the gaming business, is that especially if you have like a slot-based casino, that’s gonna be who you’re attracting,” Belarmino said. “That’s usually people over 50, they are going to be your high-end players, your most loyal players who usually have the time to visit the casino more often.”
Other demographic factors go into the decision, for example Belarmino says there are many international gamblers in Vegas from countries where smoking is prevalent, which factors into smoking being allowed most places in Sin City. On the other end, Vegas’ Park MGM notably went non-smoking in a push to attract younger crowds, bucking the overall trend.
Belarmino says for most casinos it’s about finding the right balance. BetRivers has boasted high-end filtration devices ( which some labor groups and lawmakers representing workers at casinos such as BetRivers’ Pittsburgh location claim don’t do enough to stop second-hand smoke) and has highlighted those non-smoking areas for guests to enjoy instead.
Facts about Portsmouth’s casino
- It’s the first freestanding casino in Virginia history, after Portsmouth approved gaming in 2020 by referendum . State Sen. Louise Lucas worked since the 1990s to bring a casino to her city.
- Virginia’s first temporary casino opened last July in Bristol, it’s not considered permanent like Portsmouth’s.
- Portsmouth’s casino is open 24/7, and there’s no last call for alcohol. Parking is also free.
- The top amount you can win before being taxed? $1,200. With any prizes above that you’ll have to sign a form and pay taxes.
- The entire facility cost more than $300 million to build and the casino itself is 50,000 square feet. There are 1,448 slot machines, 57 table games, and 24 poker tables.
- It can fit about 10,000 people, according to the fire marshal.
- The groundbreaking for the facility was in December 2021.
- Six restaurants , including a steak and seafood house unique to Portsmouth, are listed on the casino’s website, but food is also available in areas such as the Sportsbook and at the TopGolf Swing Suite. Yard House , which has a location at Virginia Beach Town Center, is the only restaurant not open yet.
- The facility’s expected to bring in about $12 million to $16 million a year in tax revenue for Portsmouth, city officials say, through roughly 6% of the casino’s adjusted gross revenue — – total wagering minus total paid-out winnings.
- It was originally supposed to open on Sunday, January 15, but the opening was pushed back to Monday, January 23 as they worked to test and verify new gaming equipment.
- The facility currently employs about 1,100 people.
“So in making those decisions sometimes it has to be are we going to be alienating people, and when that happens are there ways you can accommodate them in another area,” Bellarmino added.
Though she says ultimately guests and employees will let the casino know.
“If they’re seeing their employees and their customers don’t want it, or are not doing it, then it makes sense to go non-smoking.”
A social media post on Friday showed Portsmouth’s casino had blocked off part of its main casino area as non-smoking. We’ll let you know what permanent changes the casino may make. Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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