PORTSMOUTH, Va. — After several years in the making, Virginia's first freestanding casino, Rivers Casino Portsmouth, is officially in operation.
The casino hosted a soft opening charity event Thursday night ahead of its public grand opening on Monday.
"I am so excited to be here, I'm like a kid in the candy store," said LaTreece Arthur, a lifelong 757 resident. "I couldn't sleep last night."
Arthur was just one of the hundreds of people who cheered with joy as Rivers Casino opened its doors Thursday night.
When guests entered the casino, they were met with metal detection systems and other security measures. Casino leaders said safety is a major priority.
"We have a state-of-the-art surveillance system, security patrols throughout the parking lot, and over 1,000 surveillance cameras," explained Roy Corby, Rivers Casino's general manager. "Plus the city of Portsmouth asked us to put some cameras on top of the building for them. It gives them a great view of what's going on down Victory Boulevard and Missy Elliot Boulevard."
Guests that win big will also be escorted by officers to their vehicles when they leave.
Near the entrance and past security is the Sound Bar, which Corby said will feature live music every weekend and can fit over 120 guests.
Guests can also grab a drink at the BetRivers Sportsbook. "This bar will be probably the busiest bar on the property," said Corby.
The sportsbook features a 750-foot monitor that can simultaneously show 30 games and includes 27 kiosks where guests can place their own bets.
Overlooking the sportsbook is a Top Golf Swing Suite, which includes three bays that can fit up to eight people each.
And, of course, Rivers Casino has plenty of options when it comes to gambling.
Inside the elaborate poker room, guests will find 24 individual tables with trained dealers.
"[The poker room] will have their own cage, so they don't have to go out onto the floor to check out, and a host podium check-in," explained Corby.
On the casino's main floor, guests will find 1,448 slot machines and 57 tables for games like craps, roulette, and blackjack.
There is also a high-stakes gambling area towards the back of the facility.
Additionally, Rivers Casino includes several food and drink options. Past security, guests can enjoy Mian Asian Cuisine, Slice Pizzeria, and Starbucks.
Outside of the casino floor, meaning they are accessible to people under 21 years old, guests will find Crossings Cafe and Admirals Steak and Seafood.
Crossings Cafe will feature both breakfast and evening meals and can seat 120 people. Admirals seats 250, includes two private rooms and has a Portsmouth native as its executive chef.
To see all of these amenities and activities finally come together, Corby says, is a surreal feeling that makes him excited for the future. But being the area's first casino, Corby recognizes the precedent his facility will set for the entire state.
"Being the first in the state really sets a tone for what a host community should expect from a casino partner," Corby explained. "Working with the state of Virginia and the Virginia Lottery Board to get these things accomplished has been a fantastic voyage...it's surreal that we're finally going to get into the mode of, ok let's actually operate a casino."
The casino comes with a price tag of $340 million. Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover says the city is expecting to make $16.3 million in tax revenue from the casino during its first four years.
"45% of our land is owned by the federal government. So we don't get any tax revenue from that land," said Mayor Glover. "Those new tax revenue dollars are going to go to things that are critically important to our city...our schools, our police and fire, our infrastructure."
And with plans to put in a hotel and develop the area surrounding the casino, Glover says the city has many more cards up its sleeve.
"Yard House, the restaurant in Virginia Beach, will have a restaurant in the casino to be opened in September," he explained. "This casino is going to bring new visitors to the city of Portsmouth. They're going to see a new Portsmouth and see that we're heading in a bold, new direction."
Rivers Casino opens to the public on Monday at 10 a.m.