A Casino In Fairfax County? After Richmond Rejection, It’s Possible

Written By T.J. McBride on November 21, 2023
Painted bricks showing flag of Fairfax County, where local officials are considering a casino proposal

A proposal to build a casino in Richmond failed recently after residents voted down the referendum. That outcome has not deterred some in another Virginia municipality. An effort is underway to bring a casino to Fairfax County.

State Sen. David Marsden said he plans to introduce legislation in January to build a casino in the area east of Dulles Airport. A public discussion recently between Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn considered the possibility of building a casino there, noting that zoning is already in place.

It’s just the beginning of what would be a long process. But Richmond’s rejection of a casino might have actually opened the door to building one in a different Virginia city.

Virginia lawmakers would need to adjust legislation allowing casinos

While Virginia online casinos are illegal, the state’s brick-and-mortar casino market has been bustling despite having just three gaming facilities:

In October alone, operators made $49.6 million, which meant $9.3 million for the state in taxes. With such success from so few operators, some lawmakers would like to add more casinos in the commonwealth.

One of those is Marsden. He wants to add Fairfax County to the list of possible sites in the commonwealth where casinos are allowed. It would take a change to the original casino gaming legislation.

A measure passed in 2019 allows casinos in Virginia, but only in five host cities. Those five cities are Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond.

Since Fairfax – which houses the city of Reston and the Tysons Corner area – was not included in the original legislation, state lawmakers would need to pass an adjusted bill. While there is no indication the Virginia General Assembly might make such a move, the failed vote in Richmond could spur lawmakers to act, as it would result in the original intention of Virginia housing five casinos.

Zoning might already be in place for a new Virginia casino

As the process continues toward a proposal, Alcon said the dialogue between him and Hill was meant to educate the public on the possibilities of adding a casino in the Hunter Mill District, which contains the city of Reston.

“There’s a lot of chatter in Hunter Mill right now about a possible casino, and certainly there have been a couple of bills in the General Assembly,” Alcon said during the board meeting. “So, I don’t think we know for sure that there’s going to be legislation next year. But certainly if there is, I thought it would be helpful for us to have more information about the process.”

If Fairfax County was under the same rules as the five casino-approved cities, voters in the municipality would have to approve it in a referendum. During the discussion, it was noted a casino might not require amending zoning ordinances or require additional county board approval.

Hill said there are existing locations already zoned “public entertainment,” which would allow a casino. That would require far less approval from county officials. Hill even said there are some existing buildings that could be repurposed to house a casino.

“If we had to make a determination today, we would likely say a casino is most similar to ‘public entertainment,'” he said. “Under this determination, a casino would be permitted in those specific districts with Board of Supervisors approval. However, on a case-by-case basis, if a casino was proposed in a form consistent with the approved layout, there are existing developments in Tysons and Reston that could fit a casino into their current approval (with no additional board approval). That said, any casino proposal that could meet those requirements is likely to be very limited.”

After the Q&A, the president of the Reston Association Board of Directors, John Farrell, released a statement condemning the idea of building a casino in Reston.

“Reston Association assures its membership that it is committed to opposing the establishment of a casino in Reston,” the statement read. “Such a project disregards the principles recently set forward in the Reston Master Plan, which was adopted after dozens of community meetings and feedback from the Reston community. We are aware of no location in Reston which has been approved as a site for ‘public entertainment’ and find Mr. Hill’s statement baffling. Should the General Assembly approve a bill authorizing a referendum, the Reston community will demonstrate its opposition at the ballot box and elsewhere.”

Marsden says Tysons Corner could use economic boost

While specifics have not been made public, including which area would contain the casino, Marsden argued that it should be located along the Metro’s Silver Line, which travels from DC to the Dulles Airport through Tysons Corner and Reston.

“The Silver Line was created for high density development and business owners paid a tax to build the Dulles Access Road and the Silver Line,” he said. “They paid to have that done, and if we can put in a conference center in an entertainment district, anchored by a casino and some hotels, it creates a tremendous number of construction jobs, good union jobs, to work in those hotels.”

Marsden said the Tysons area is direly in need of an influx of tourism, job creation and revenue streams.

“Our commercial real estate market here locally is deteriorating rapidly,” he said. “These are all 10-year leases on these buildings that people who rent space that they have and people who had 50,000 square feet now want 10,000. People who had 10,000 now don’t want any. Revenue in the county is deteriorating, and I’m worried that Tysons Corner will become a ghost town because people are working from home.”

Could Fairfax casino proponents succeed where Richmond failed?

The idea of passing casino legislation via voter referendum in Virginia may have become less appealing after seeing Richmond voters shoot down a casino proposal.

The voter referendum received 39,768 votes against the proposal, while only 24,765 votes were in favor of adding a casino. That means more than 60% of the votes cast were against it despite casino supporters pumping in over $10 million to get it passed.

It was the second time residents had defeated the casino proposal, and it probably kills any efforts to build a casino in Virginia’s capital city any time soon.

It could be a godsend to supporters of building a casino in Fairfax County, though, as the end result would be five casinos in the commonwealth.

But the Richmond vote could also show that residents think four is enough for now.

Photo by Shutterstock
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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He is a Nuggets beat writer and also covers the regulated gambling industry across the U.S. His byline can be seen at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and more.

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