Rolling the Dice: Bringing a casino to Hampton Roads

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - The bright lights, the sounds, the tables, the slots - all have a hand in making casinos what they are with each casino is a pie worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

One cold Saturday morning – a bus of travelers is ready to travel several hours from Norfolk to Maryland Live casino just outside of Baltimore.

casino-picIt's one of seven casinos Virginia Beach-based fun tours shuttles people to on a regular basis.

"We have two other buses going later today to Harrington, Delaware and Dover Downs in Delaware. Both of those buses are sold out and so there's a great interest," said Elinor Horton a tour escort whose been with Fun Tours for 18 years.

February 2 marks Fun Tours' first shuttle to the new MGM Grand National Harbor outside of Washington D.C.

For Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) each one of these bus trips, each new casino is another missed opportunity to keep Virginian’s money here.

"Right now we know MGM Grand in particular is drawing anywhere from $350 million, upward of $700 million (per year) in Virginia [dollars] and that’s not even to count what might be going to other states as well," she said.

Sen. Lucas is leading the charge locally to bring a casino to Hampton Roads – specifically Portsmouth. Over the years she’s introduced a number of bills to allow casino gaming in Virginia.

Her latest proposed legislation was shot down in committee in January.

"I’m losing count on the number of years I’ve introduced casino bills but each year i get a little bit closer," she said.

Lucas does have a big name in her corner: Governor Terry McAuliffe.

"Of course we're leaving money on the table. My friend was up [at MGM Grand] the other day. He counted the number of license plates from Virginia," said Gov. McAuliffe in January. "People should be concerned. Our money is going over to Maryland to the beautiful new MGM facility."

But how much money are we missing out on?

A 2013 study by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization estimated a local casino would create around 2000 jobs with gaming bringing in $200-$600 million dollars annually.

The economic impact? $78-$107 million dollars in Hampton Roads in addition to more than a hundred million in possible tax revenues.

The study also argued a casino could keep locals from spending money at other businesses – keeping the overall impact relatively small.

Old Dominion University's 2015 State of the Region came to a similar conclusion.

Both studies also pointed out negative social impacts like feeding gambling addictions, crime and corruption.

Legal gambling does happen locally. One of the only options is a bingo hall like Interstate Bingo in Norfolk.

"It’s just the same thing. The rush. It’s just pulling that lever or pushing that button," said Mary Green of Virginia Beach.

Would she trade in her dauber for a slot machine?

"Oh, definitely," she said.

Whether it’s the bingo dauber or a bus trip north gaming is on Virginian’s minds so it’s a good ‘bet’ we haven’t seen the end of the casino debate.