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Casinos Are A Game Of Chance

With casinos in Norfolk and Portsmouth scheduled to open in 2023, one big question remains: Are they a sure bet, a safe bet, or a sucker’s bet?

“It really depends on who you talk to,” said Gretchen Heal, the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Robert McNab, an economics professor and the director of Old Dominion University’s Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy, filed a 25-page report on the topic last year as part of the State of the Region Reports: Hampton Roads. His report, titled All In: Casinos, Online Betting and the Future of Gambling in Hampton Roads, did not offer an opinion, but looked at all aspects of bringing casinos to the area.

“While Norfolk and Portsmouth are likely to benefit from the construction and operation of the new casinos, the overall impact on the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metropolitan statistical area (Hampton Roads) is likely to be small,” McNab wrote in the report.

Proponents of the casinos mention increases in jobs, tax revenue, and tourism.

However, opponents say since most of the jobs are in construction, many of those jobs will go away once the casinos are built. McNab’s report described the increase in jobs in Hampton Roads as “not insignificant, but it’s not monumental, either.”

As far as money generated from tax revenue, that often is a short-term gain. Many new business ventures have a “honeymoon phase.” Once the novelty wears off, often in just a few years, the money generated levels off or even declines.

New money generated by tourism might be the hardest aspect to predict.

Again, from McNab’s report: “As residents begin to frequent these casinos, they will, in effect, be moving their money from one form of entertainment to another in the region. In other words, instead of spending their hard-earned dollars at bars, restaurants, and movie theaters, consumers will be spending some of their money at these new venues.”

Opponents also often cite the possibility of increased crime to the area, and the effects gambling addiction has on society. As for crime, studies from across the country provide no definitive answers, other than the jury is still out on that aspect. Regarding the second part, Heal said being proactive can help.

 “There are some discussions ongoing now of about money to be put into addiction services for people that need help,” she said.

Heal said, in general, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is supportive of both casinos.

“It’s going to increase the number of jobs available, so, yes, that’s good,” she said. “Overall, nobody thinks it’s bad to add more hotel rooms for tourism, for conference centers, and the draw of the casino and the jobs that are there.”

One thing is certain: It’s what the voters want.

About 18 months after Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill allowing the Virginia Lottery Board to regulate commercial casinos and casino gaming, voters in four areas – Bristol (71.1 percent), Danville (68.7 percent), Norfolk (65.1 percent) and Portsmouth (66.8 percent) – went to the polls and said yes. Richmond, the only other area approved for a casino if its voters agreed, wasn’t successful in its bid, as 51.4 percent of its voters rejected the proposal.

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