Video Poker Will Boost Virginia Beach Tourism

Hampton Roads: Video poker in Virginia Beach’s resort area is not simply a way to put more money into the pockets of a few business people. It is a way to expand on one of the most important components of our local economy: tourism.

Tourism is a relatively clean industry, the infrastructure is already in place, and no municipal or state investment would be required. The Oceanfront resort sits largely idle for half of the year or more. The peak season is less than four months.

We can’t expand the area of the resort, but we can extend the length of the season. An example of the need to do this is the remaining McDonald’s franchise at the Beach. McDonald’s is the type of family-friendly business everyone would like to see more of at the Beach. At one time there were four McDonald’s franchises at the Oceanfront and, presumably, during the peak of the tourist season, all four were doing well. For a large portion of the year, however, business drops off to the extent that only one could remain viable. There is a great deal of business capacity sitting idle at the Oceanfront for much of the year.

Tourism is not the only component of our local economy. Facilities funded by the Department of Defense dwarf all others. The ports are certainly another major component, and the outlook for the ports is good for the coming years. Same for the shipyards.

But overall, spending by the Department of Defense is likely to shrink quite a lot over the next decade. Whether this means that Defense spending here will contract to pre-9/11 levels, no one can say. We could lose two carriers to Florida. By some estimates, that amounts to about 6,000 families leaving the area. And despite the “I Love Jet Noise” bumper stickers, Oceana Naval Air Station may not continue to be the East Coast master jet base for long.

Expanding on an already existing economic component makes sense. The city of Virginia Beach and the hotel/motel owners have attempted to collaborate on this before. The convention center is an example. The innkeepers volunteered to tax themselves to pay for the original, smaller convention center. They are still paying that tax for the new convention center, which cost way too much and brings in far too little business. Outside the peak summer season, there is no reason for groups to hold conventions here.

Remember back in January and February when you wrapped up in several coats to make the trip to the grocery store? What would the conventioneers be doing then? Strolling along the Boardwalk? They would be watching reruns on TV in their motel rooms, wishing they were elsewhere.

Aside from the beach, there is very little to draw tourists here in the off season. The beach is a family-friendly destination, and families tend to vacation in the summer when children are out of school. Tourists who come to town during the fall, winter and spring are different. They are retired couples or young couples without children.

There is no reason for the city not to collaborate with the innkeepers this time. Poker is a game of skill, not chance. Tourists who play it successfully are highly skilled, intelligent people. Video poker is one very promising activity that would draw tourists to the resort beyond the summer months.

Extending the length of the tourist season does increase opportunities for the local businesses at the Oceanfront, and it also contributes to the local economy.


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