Hampton wants to be dealt with in the forthcoming Virginia commercial gaming industry. Recently, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation in April that allowed cities that meet a host of qualifying criteria to hold local ballot referendums to authorize a casino in their hometowns.
Five cities met the conditions, and four held successful ballot initiatives on November 3, including Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol. Richmond, the fifth city that qualified, opted to delay its casino referendum.
Hampton didn’t qualify to ask its local voters whether they want to bring a casino venue to their city.
Qualifying towns had to meet various economic circumstances, one being a population decrease of at least 20 percent from 1990 to 2016. Hampton’s population has been relatively stable over the past three decades, with the city presently home to approximately 135,000 people.
Despite being excluded from the casino process, Hampton City Council voted last week to send the state a request for it to reconsider the qualifying conditions.
Casinos are already in the works in the Hampton Roads cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Norfolk has teamed with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire Jon Yarbrough on a $500 million project. The casino will be built on roughly 13 acres of land next to the city’s Harbor Park baseball stadium along the Elizabeth River.
Portsmouth is working with Chicago-based casino company Rush Street Gaming on a $300 million resort casino. The site is on vacant land at Victory and Cavalier boulevards off I-264.
Hampton officials say three casinos are feasible in the Hampton Roads area. They say a study conducted by The Innovation Group — a Florida-based firm that carried out a review on casino gambling for the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission last year — concluded that three casinos in the region would all be profitable.
The research study found that three Hampton Roads casinos in operation would collectively win about $350 million annually in gross gaming revenue (GGR). The Hampton City Council tells the state that a casino in its city would create upwards of 900 new jobs and $42 million in annual wages and benefits.
Hampton is already home to one form of gaming, and one that a novice gambler might assume is a slot machine.
Prior to deciding to allow residents in economically challenged cities to vote on a commercial casino, Virginia state lawmakers opted to allow historical horse racing machines (HHR) to come to the Commonwealth. That decision was the result of Revolutionary Racing, a Chicago-based group of investors, offering to purchase the shuttered Colonial Downs Racetrack and restore live racing in exchange for HHR.
The law allowed Revolutionary to incorporate HHR at Colonial Downs and build several satellite gaming parlors in the state. Operating under the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium brand, one such location is in Hampton. The venue has 700 HHR terminals, and the venue has been popular since opening in 2019.
Though they mimic slot machines, HHR results are not random but based on real horse races previously run on the pari-mutuel odds at that time. Players pick their horses or allow the terminal to automatically select the horses with the best odds.