PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Rivers Casino Portsmouth has officially changed its smoking policy after significant feedback from guests and the community.
The new policy makes half of the gaming floor inside the main casino area nonsmoking. Both table games and slot games will be included in both smoking and nonsmoking sections, Rivers said.
Rivers did remind guests that cigars, vaping and marijuana are not allowed inside the facility.
Previously, smoking was allowed throughout the main gaming floor, leading to a slew of negative feedback since the casino opened last Monday. Many people said they wouldn’t go unless changes were made. Rivers then introduced non-smoking section signs in the main casino on Friday, and officially announced the new policy was effective as of Tuesday.
This change now makes about 80% of the facility smoke-free. The dedicated poker room, BetRivers Sportsbook, Sound Bar, Topgolf Swing Suite and all of the facility’s restaurants also don’t allow smoking.
An expert on casino gaming who spoke with WAVY on Friday said that Rivers may have thought they had a competitive advantage at first in allowing smoking as other regional casinos have opted to go nonsmoking, but ultimately guest and employee feedback will break through.
“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,” said Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor of hospitality at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Many people, including employees, raised concerns over not only the smell, but of the possibility of secondhand smoke despite Rivers’ ventilation system.
The group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights cited engineers who designed the ventilation systems in emphasizing how ventilation can reduce odor and discomfort, but not exposure to second-hand smoke. They likened a smoking section to “having a peeing section in a pool.”
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
Smoke is stubborn — it doesn’t abide by a sign and stay in one area. This is a weak effort to address the public outcry that has defined the opening week of Rivers Casino Portsmouth. The only solution is to get rid of indoor smoking — move it outside. Otherwise, casino workers and guests will continue to breathe dangerous secondhand smoke. Rivers has the power to make this decision immediately and attract guests who want to enjoy everything their casino has to offer.”
Pete Naccarelli, a casino dealer in Atlantic City and cofounder of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effect (CEASE) said he’s also concerned about the health effects for employees and guests, and has pushed for legislation to ban smoking in Atlantic City and at other casinos such as Bet Rivers’ in Pittsburgh.
“The bottom line is 87 percent of Americans don’t smoke, 13 percent do,” Naccarelli said. “Why are the casinos catering to the 13 percent that does and while endangering the lives that don’t?”
“Even brief exposure does cause changes in the blood vessel lining and the stickiness of platelets. We know even brief exposures to secondhand smoke increases a person’s risk of heart attack and negative health impacts,” Dr. Marlene Capps, the Chief Clinical Officer for Bon Secours Hampton Roads, told WAVY.
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.