Norfolk Casino Back to Single-Phase Timeline Following City Confusion

Posted on: August 7, 2023, 10:42h. 

Last updated on: August 7, 2023, 11:58h.

The Norfolk casino development called HeadWaters Resort & Casino is said to be back on track following some confusion regarding the property’s construction timeline.

Norfolk casino HeadWaters Virginia gambling
A rendering of the proposed HeadWaters Resort & Casino on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk adjacent to the city’s minor league baseball ballpark. HeadWaters is a $500 million development being spearheaded by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire Jon Yarbrough. (Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

HeadWaters is a $500 million project that Norfolk voters authorized through a local ballot referendum during the 2020 presidential election. The casino pitch came from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire gaming industry veteran Jon Yarbrough.

Norfolk was one of five cities that Virginia lawmakers in 2020 designated as potential commercial casino host locations. The gaming bill is designed to help that handful of cities in turning around their poor economic conditions.

Almost three years after Norfolk residents backed the HeadWaters plan with 65% support, little work has been done at the 13.5-acre construction site adjacent to the city’s Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium. The latest delays were blamed on confusion among city officials and the casino developers regarding a proposed phased construction timeline for the resort.

The tribe and Yarbrough pulled their casino application from the city’s Architectural Review Board last month. HeadWaters reps cited mixed messaging from the Norfolk City Council in the decision to rescind the construction approval request.

Sides Back in Unison

HeadWaters was initially to be a single-phase construction undertaking. But in early July, the developers reworked the timeline to include two phases.

The first phase was to include a 90,000-square-foot building encompassing the casino space, resort lobby, restaurant, sports bar, and parking structure. The second phase was to include the 300-room hotel and resort-style amenities such as a spa, additional restaurants, a rooftop pool, and an events center.

Local officials pushed back against the timeline on the grounds that the city’s host agreement with the developers didn’t specify the allowance of a phased construction schedule. The Virginian-Pilot reports that the two sides are back on the same page and are currently reworking a single-phase construction plan.

While we acknowledge prior communication which contemplated a phased design approval process, we have no such amendments to our agreements which would allow for this,” Norfolk City Manager Patrick Roberts wrote the casino development group in a July 14 letter. “Further, the city will not consider amendments to our agreements that would risk the final project being anything less than what was agreed upon in 2020.”

Officials from HeadWaters met with city leaders on July 25 to remedy the misunderstanding. A joint statement was released following the discussions that affirmed “both sides remain fully committed” to the 2020 casino plan residents endorsed.

Rivers Benefits From HeadWaters Delays

Norfolk and Portsmouth are two of the five cities cleared for a casino in the 2020 Virginia gaming bill. The two neighboring Hampton Roads cities are separated by the Elizabeth River.

Portsmouth voters also approved of their casino project during the November 2020 election. The city’s casino developer, Rush Street Gaming, wasted no time in building and opening its gaming property, Rivers Casino Portsmouth.

Rivers Portsmouth opened on Jan. 23, 2023. The casino has since been marketing its operations and building its market share in the Hampton Roads region.

Since its opening, Rivers Portsmouth’s 1,420 slot machines and 81 table games have generated gross gaming revenue (GGR) of about $119.8 million. Rivers’ best month to date was experienced in February, the casino’s first full month in operation, when GGR exceeded $24.6 million.

Along with slots and tables, Rivers Casino Portsmouth features a BetRivers Sportsbook. The casino doesn’t offer an on-site hotel or resort-style amenities.